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The Evolution of a Religion 






The Evolution of a Religion 

UNIVERSITY BOOKS ^j^ New Hyde Park, New York 

Copyright new matter © 1961 by University Books, Inc. 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 61-15334 

Thanks are due the following Libraries which have 
provided copies of the original edition: 

Library of the Boston Athenaeum 
Union Theological Seminary 
Andover-Harvard Theological Library 


"I am not concerned about knowing whether 
what you have seen gives you pleasure ; it is enough 
for me that it should be the truth. Science does 
not trouble about pleasing or displeasing: she is 
inhuman. It is not science, but poetry, that charms 
and comforts, and that is why poetry is more neces- 
sary than science." 

Anatole France, Honey-Bee. 

by John C. Wilson 

Poets may die young and still become immortal but 
scholars must have long life. Our author was moderately 
fortunate in this respect. He was seventy-two years old when 
he died. He had been teaching and writing on the subject of 
this book for about forty years. Charles Guignebert was 
one of those fortunate people who seem to know very early 
in life what they want to do. He was still a student, preparing 
to teach, when he chose history for his life's work. His step- 
father, who taught history, inspired him with an interest in 
the medieval world. This in turn led naturally to the origins 
of Christianity. For thirty-one years he lectured on the 
History of Christianity at the Sorbonne, beginning with the 
school year 1905-1906. For twenty- three years he also con- 
ducted a seminar devoted to the New Testament; it took that 
long to get through; verse by verse, Greek text in hand, they 
went through it; three school years were devoted to the 
Gospel of Mark, two and one-half years to the Letter to the 
Galatians. Thus he wrote Jesus and The Jewish World in 
the Time of Jesus and published them in the last decade of 
his life. A decade earlier he had published the present book. 
At his death he left half-finished a work planned on the same 
grand scale as Jesus, entitled Le Christ, which is not yet 
translated; where Jesus leaves off, Le Christ goes on to give 
us the ways and means whereby the Palestinian prophet and 
rebel was transformed into the universal God-man.* 

"JESUS, University Books Inc. XII + 563 pages. 

The Jewish World in the Time of Jesus, University Books Inc. 
XIII + 288 pages. 

Jesus appeared in French in 1933, The Jewish World in the Time 
of Jesus in 1935. 

The first half of the present work was originally published in 1921 as 
Le Christianisme Antique, the second half a year later as Le Chris- 
tianisme Medieval et Moderne. The present translation, authorized by 
Guignebert, was originally published in 1927 under the title Christian- 
ity, Past and Present. We have changed the title in the present edition 
to conform to the original. 



Charles Guignebert (b. June 18, 1867-d. August 27, 1939) 
was, then, a great scholar and what we have from him are 
lifelong works. But that is only half the story, it is the other 
half which makes his books of vital interest to us. Guignebert 
is a rare creature, how rare does not appear at first glance, 
nor even at second. 

Guignebert cannot be understood without the Dreyfus 
Affair. Defeat in war in 1870 brought in a French republic, 
but for thirty more years the republic was dominated by 
rightist governments of royalist, militarist and clerical ele- 
ments. The separation of Church and State achieved by the 
French Revolution had been overthrown by Napoleon III. 
Alfred Dreyfus, a French General Staff officer, was a Jew. In 
1894 a court-martial convicted him of treason and sentenced 
him to Devil's Island. The real traitor who had sold military 
documents to the Germans was a Catholic royalist officer. The 
truth was discovered and suppressed within the Government. 
Evidence was manufactured against Dreyfus. An unholy alli- 
ance of militarist and clerical even managed a new verdict of 
guilty in 1900. Not until 1906 did the Supreme Court of 
Appeals (not the army) clear Dreyfus. The aftermath of the 
Dreyfus Affair was separation of Church and State in France. 
The clericals were moved out of the University of Paris, the 
Sorbonne, and our author, not yet thirty but already noted 
for his scholarship, was invited to the Sorbonne. In his open- 
ing lecture he described his program of work for the next 
thirty years: the scientific study of the history of religion 
starts from the understanding that it is history like other 
history, its facts are like other facts. This scientific study, 
however, brings very great fruits indeed, for it is "the mother 
of tolerance and religious peace." 

It is the fire kindled at the Dreyfus trial which warms 
Guignebert's erudition. Guignebert never belonged to a 
political party but, as his devoted secretary, Marguerite 
Brunot, put it, "he considered himself a pacifist and from 
Dreyfus on supported just causes." His pacifism was quite 
typically French, there is no question of his not supporting his 
country in war, but he suffered well-nigh insupportable 
anguish from the deaths of his students in the carnage of 


World War I. His ardent French patriotism has the special 
flavor of his generation of Dreyfusards. So that closest to his 
heart was the course that he gave to foreigners at the Sor- 
bonne for thirty years, on the history of the French people. 

In 1920, with his colleagues, he founded the Ernest Renan 
Society, "the name is a whole program," says Marguerite 
Brunot. Renan in 1845 renounced the priesthood and began 
the study of religion from the historical rather than the the- 
ological point of view. In 1863, when he published his life of 
Jesus (how pale it now reads!) the outcry against him pre- 
vented him from taking his teaching post at the Sorbonne. 
Fifteen years later he was elected to the French Academy and 
five years later he was made Director of the College de 
France. But this was only a tiny crack in the Church-State 
edifice, for another quarter century priests taught the cate- 
chism in the state schools, and not until the school year 1905- 
1906 did a Guignebert teach a course at the Sorbonne from 
Renan 's point of view. :|: 

Now, dear reader, you will understand what manner of 
man is outlining the major epochs in the History of Christi- 

From the very first page of the Preface you are in the 
presence of a scientist who knows that the truths he is expos- 
ing remain unpleasant because we are all still living in a 
Christian world which cannot but find these truths unpalat- 
able. Christianity has made peace with the theory of evolution 
but there is no way in which it can make peace with the appli- 
cation of the theory of evolution to Christianity itself. More 
precisely, Guignebert's theory will be most unpalatable to the 
principal Church of his country, Roman Catholicism. 

The special form of the law of evolution in the field of 
religion is that a religion is best understood as a living organ- 
ism. It is born, develops, adapts and transforms itself, grows 
old, and dies. Each religion is like an organism, too, in that 
each presents a special appearance of its own. It has its 
characteristic features, its way of life and method of action, 
its differences from other religions appear more striking and 

N As late as 1921, however, as Guignebert tells us in this book, there were 
still only three universities in France where such courses were given. 


really more essential than the resemblances between it and 
them. The fact that each religion is a unique organism, best 
understood specifically by itself, nevertheless does not change 
the fact that it is an organism like the others, like them it is 
born, develops, flourishes, adapts, grows old and dies. 

What dies (or what adapts itself so completely that it is 
transformed into something else) is ancient Christianity. This 
Hellenistic Christianity is to a very considerable extent one 
religion, it is succeeded by another religion in the medieval 
period. The rise and triumph of the Papacy compels it, thanks 
to the law of exaggeration inherent in revealed religions, to 
claim a papal line extending from Peter, but it is not difficult 
for Guignebert to prove that Papacy was unknown and 
foreign to Hellenistic Christianity, quite apart from the fact 
that Jesus did not delegate Peter as Primate nor did Peter 
think himself the repository of the Keys. If modern Christi- 
anity seems to closely resemble medieval Christianity (mean- 
ing in modern times primarily Roman Catholicism) a harder 
look shows us the resemblance at most is that between a 
vigorous young man and worn old man. Modern Romanism 
as recently as 1900 triumphed over a Catholic modernist 
movement and crushed it underfoot. But Roman Catholicism 
today has irrevocably lost the foundations which gave the 
medieval Church both its temporal and spiritual power. The 
Church today cannot and does not consider man on earth as 
the King of creation, on the contrary its theologians are 
already adapting themselves to the possibility of intelligent 
beings on numerous (or innumerable) other planets, including 
the possibility of such beings still in natural grace (i.e. they 
never experienced the Fall ! ) . For the medieval Church nature 
entire was laid out for man's convenience, the sole charge in 
return laid upon him was to recognize the beneficence of God 
and accordingly sing praises of that beneficence. It is not 
necessary to add to the contrast. 

Another thread, particularly fascinating, employed by 
Guignebert is his constant examination of the difference be- 
tween the Christianity of the Church, the Christianity of the 
rulers and the aristocracy, and the Christianity of the masses 
below. Often enough these are different religions. 


All this, again, is so unpalatable to those surrounding us 
that there are moments when we— even those of us free and 
clear of Christianity— cannot but sympathize with those who 
are pained by it. At such moments it is necessary once again 
to remember Guignebert in his seminar going through the 
New Testament verse by verse, three years on the Gospel of 
Mark— this is no muckraker! No, it is the scientist warmed by 
the sacred fire, "the mother of tolerance and religious peace."* 

*I am indebted for the best details in this piece to "Charles Guigne- 
bert, sa vie et son ouvre, par sa secretaire, Marguerite Brunot," 
Annales de L'Universite de Paris, July-Oct. 1939. 


The main lines of thought followed in this book are 
the same as those of one of its predecessors, entitled 
"L 'Evolution des Dogmes," 1 in which I endeavored to 
describe and account for the formation, successive modi- 
fications and final destruction of the articles of faith 
known as dogmas. Instead, however of considering the 
dogmatic assertions of religions in general in abstracto, 
the present volume seeks to understand and explain 
the life of one particular religion, studied as a concrete 
reality. It is above all with facts, their significance, 
consequences, and connections, that it deals. It is the 
main outlines of a history which it tries to delineate 
so as to prove, if possible, that not only in its dogmas, but 
also throughout the ramifications of its whole organism 
a religion undergoes the process of evolution. 

From the socu 1 milieu in which it establishes itself 
it borrows the primary elements which form its sub- 
stance and sustain it in organizing themselves. By under- 
going more or less thorough transformations of its 
organs, it adapts itself to the demands of the diverse 
and successive spheres to which it is afterward trans- 
ported. Like all living beings, it eliminates its worn- 
out and dead particles by degrees, and assimilates others 
derived from its surroundings which renew its flesh and 
blood until the day comes when, in the inevitable course 
of time, its powers of adaptation relax their activity and 
finally stop short. That means it has become unable to 
rid itself of the inert and noxious waste matters it is 
accumulating, unable also to nourish its life ; death gradu- 
ally takes possession of and congeals it, until at last 
the moment arrives when it is good for nothing but to 

1 Ch. Guignebert, UEvolution des Dogmes (Paris, 1910). 



engender, from its own decaying tissues, a new religious 
organism, destined to a similar fate. 

No doubt it is a law of human mentality, by whose 
means religions are born, live and die, that though in 
certain respects the religious phenomenon may be dif- 
ferent in itself, and perhaps, too, may raise itself from 
age to age toward an unconscious ideal of which some 
believe they have obtained a glimpse, yet it is really the 
same cycle that is being everlastingly developed and 
consummated, and then beginning once more. 

The Christian religion will form the main object of 
our study here, and we shall endeavor first of all to 
account for its life during the earliest centuries of its 
existence. But, as in the little book I have mentioned, 
I shall by no means exclude comparisons between the 
facts of the history of Christianity and those of the his- 
tory of other religions. A very powerful atavistic ten- 
dency, difficult to eradicate, exists in us; the Romano- 
Christian culture brought it into being. And it would 
have us believe that Christianity could never have been 
such a religion as the others; that its genesis and the 
course of its long career until the present day followed 
methods that were exceptional, and that it will never 
perish. Comparison alone can dispel this illusion, and 
replace it by a vision which, I do not deny, is disheart- 
ening, but is at least true to the historical reality. And 
is it not by venturing to look firmly in the face that 
which has been and that which is, rather than by 
endeavoring to conceal the real facts beneath the veil 
of his dreams and the adornments born of his desires, 
that man will rise to a clearer understanding of his 
destiny and his duty? 

Is it necessary to add that the present essay does not 
presume to offer a complete picture of the history of 
Christianity, and that it only aims at presenting, in a 
form which all can understand, and in accordance with 
a scheme which he believes capable of demonstration, 
an ensemble of facts and considerations which will render 
the development of that history intelligible ? It will hap- 


pen more than once, especially in the earlier chapters, 
that I may make momentous statements without at the 
same time offering all their proofs. It will be under- 
stood that in a sketch of this kind a meticulous discussion 
of exegetics finds no place, and I trust that the reader 
who remembers that the critical study of the New Testa- 
ment has been engaging my attention in the Sorbonne 
for the last twenty years, may have sufficient confidence 
in me to assume that I do not advance anything upon 
which I have not long and seriously reflected. 2 

9 I have abandoned the idea of giving a bibliography, which would 
occupy unnecessary space, but I shall refer from time to time to works 
that are essential. Most of these are written in German, and the best 
summary on the history of Christianity that I know is that of G. Kriiger, 
Handbueh der Kirchengeschichte fiir Studierende (Tubingen, 1909-1913), 
four volumes and index. The best account of the evolution of 
Christianity is to be found in the two works of Pfleiderer, Die 
Entstehung des Christentums, and Die Entwickelung des Christentwms, 
(Munich, 1907), or in the large volume entitled Oeschichte der christ- 
lichen Religion, published in Berlin and Leipzig in 1909, by Wellhausen, 
Julicher, Harnack, Bonwetsch, and others. As an excellent handbook 
with a very good bibliographical index I can recommend the book 
edited by Gerald Birney Smith, entitled A Guide to the Study of the 
Christian Religion (University of Chicago Press, 1917). This would be 
well read in connection with P. Wernle's Evntfiihrung in das theologische 
Studium (Tubingen, 1911), the title of which does not sufficiently indi- 
cate the variety of ideas or the wealth of information it contains. 



Foreword vii 

Preface xiii 

Introduction 1 

I. The difficulty of defining "religion," and the 
need for insisting on an analysis of positive religions. 
. — Wherein this task is already a complicated one. — 
How the religious and social strata correspond with 
each other in aggregates already developed. — The 
eyncretistic nature of popular religion; its activity. 
— Examples from the history of Christianity. — Endos- 
mosis between different religions established on the 
same social soil. — How a new religion may arise out 
of this condition. 

II. Why the study of the history of Christianity is 
mot more advanced. Reasons to be sought without 
and within. — Inadequacy of information ; the prob- 
lems badly formulated for so long a time. — The con- 
fusion caused by both adherents and opponents. — 
The present-day point of view. 

III. How Christianity as a whole appears to the 



I. Jesus' Initiative 21 

i^ I. The Jewish origin of Christianity. — Jesus the 

I "" &LJ( Nazarene ; paucity of our information respecting him. 

— How and why his history soon gives place to legend. 
— Tradition and the sources of our Gospels. — How 
these Gospels were composed. — The gaps in the narra- 
tive filled in by faith. — How the problems of Jesus* 
rise presents itself. 
f~~" II. The sphere from which Jesus issued. — The 
| country of the Jews and its surroundings; the vast 
I amount of religious material at the disposal of a 
A — i*esh syncretism. — Jesus' training entirely Jewish. — 
The Palestinian world in the time of Herod the Great. 
— The priestly hierarchy and worship ; the scribes and 
legalism ; the people and the religion in force. — The 



expectation of the Messiah. — Characteristic features 
of Galilean Judaism. 

III. The theory which accounts for Jesus' rise. — 
The Messianic hope. — Jesus in relation to the Baptist. 
— The themes on which he preached : the coming of 
the Kingdom and repentance. — Did he believe himself 
the Messiah? — The bearing of the Gospel designations 
Son of God, Son of David, Son of Man. — Various diffi- 
culties and probabilities. — Jesus a Jewish prophet. 

II. Jesus' Failure 39 

I. Jesus' failure inevitable. — His inability to pre- 
sent his mission in a way convincing to either people, 
scribes or priesthood. — The journey to Jerusalem and 
the death of Jesus. — Had the latter been foreseen by 

II. The dispersion of the Apostles. — How their 
faith in Jesus' resurrection restored their courage. — 
The occurrences leading to this faith and its conse- 
quences with regard to the constitution of primitive 
Christology and the dawn of Christianity. 

III. The disciples' faith reconstructed. — The idea 
of the speedy return of Jesus the Messiah. — Small 
likelihood of the success of the Apostolic doctrine. — Its 
survival assured by its transplantation to Greek soil. 

III. The Work of the Apostles 51 

I. The Apostles belong to Palestine; their point of 
view. — The Jews outside Palestine; the Diaspora. — 
How it is constituted. — The organization of its com- 
munities. — The propaganda of its synagogues. — How 
they arrive at an understanding with Hellenism. — The 
spirit of their proselytes ; wherein it is favorable 
beforehand to Christian doctrine. 

II. The syncretism of the Diaspora. — The Man- 
dseism of Mesopotamia. — The Hypsistarians and the 
Sabians of Phrygia. — The Nazoreans of Perea, de- 
scribed by Epiphanus. — The influences favorable to 
Christianity wrought by these sects. 

III. How the transit from the faith of the Apostles 
to the sphere of the Diaspora was accomplished; the 
story of the Acts. — Barnabas at Antioch. — The 
humbleness and apparently limited range of the work 
of the Palestinian Apostles. 

IV. The Pauline Milieu 63 

I. Tarsus ; its schools and their sphere of radiation. 
— The intellectual education of Paul. — How he 
becomes the Apostle of Jesus Christ. — His tempera- 
ment. — How far it is orignial. — The elements of his / 
doctrine : the importance of this point. 

II. The redeeming Gods of the Hellenistic East. — 
In what respects they are alike and how they are 
confused. — The myth of their death and annual resur- 
rection. — Its origin and first meaning. — Its application 



to Mithra. Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis. — The drama of the 
life and death of the god. 

III. The metaphysical interpretation of these 
stories of divinities : they typify the mystery of human 
destiny. — The necessity for man to associate himself 
with the destiny of the redeeming god to acquire 
eternal life; how this association operates. — The 
baptism of blood and the communion feast : the 
tauroboliurm and the banquet at the god's table. — The 
manducation of the god. — The resemblance between 
these rites and Christian baptism and the Eucharist. 
— The soteriology of the Mysteries and the Pauline 

IV. Was Paul acquainted with the Mysteries? — The 
religion of Tarsus ;• Baal-Tarz and Sandan. — Other 
Mysteries. — Hypotheses and probabilities. — The reli- 
gious influences which Paul underwent at Tarsus. — 
Paul well prepared for his role of Apostle of Chris- 
tianity to the Gentiles by his triple qualification as 
Greek, Jew and Roman. 

V. Paul's Training as a Cheistian ..... 81 

I. Paul had received a Christian training, though 
one that it is difficult to determine. — In what respect 
his injurious proceedings with regard to believers pre- 
pare the way for his conversion. — He has not been 
subjected to Apostolic influences, but to that of a 
Hellenistic community. 

II. The faith of this community. — How it gathers 
force in Jerusalem and transforms the Apostolic faith. 
— The Church in Antioch ; her importance and her 
spirit. — Her Christology : the conception of the Lord 
Jesus. — The part it plays in Paul's training. — His 
Hellenistic origin. — Worship and the Lord's presence 
in the Paulinian community. — The soteriology of the 
primitive Hellenist community and the Pauline 

III. How Paul's conversion was probably brought 
about. — How he regarded it himself. — What it must 
have been in reality. — How it led to his Apostolate 
and determined its direction. 

VI. The Work of the Apostle Paul 97 

I. Paul's independence of the Palestinian Apostles. 
— His earlier position with regard to these. — How 
Barnabas directs his activity ; his life as a missionary. 

II. The teaching that this affords him. — The prob- 
lem of the admission of the non-Jewish believers to 
the ranks of the Christians. — How its solution urges 
on Christian Messianism to become >an Oriental 
religion. — Paul's Christology is an influence in the 
same direction. — How he conceives the person and the 
role of Christ. — The Savior and the Son of God; the 
work of redemption ; in what respects this doctrine is 
a gnosis. 



III. The influence of the Gentile converts' ritual 
practices upon Pauline Baptism and Eucharist. — To 
what extent Paul is the founder of Christianity. 

VII. Christianity as an Autonomous Religion . . 108 

I. Hellenistic influences unavoidable by the Chris- 
. tian faith. — The Johannine tide. The Judeo-Christian 

f) V \ resistance of Paulinism and Johannism. How they 
are overcome by degrees. — The separation of the 
Faith from_the Law.tSeparation of Church and 
Synagogue.-=4rhe situation at the opening of the 
fourth century. — The intellectual movement with 
regard to religious matters from the first to the fourth 
century. — The official Roman religion and religious 
sentiment. — The urge of the East. — The individual- 
istic syncretism of the third century. — Christianity 
presents itself as an Oriental religion and addresses 
itself to the individual. — It condemns syncretism, but 
in appearance only ; how far it is itself syncretistic. 
— Its encounter with philosophy. 

II. The Greco-Roman terrain. — The themes upon 
which the school of metaphysicians ponders. 

III. The influence of Hellenist culture urges the 
faith in two different directions. — The transformation 
of Christianity into a revealed and perfected phil- 
osophy. — The expansion of the gnoses. — The role of 
heresy in the evolution of doctrine. — The influence of 
pagan ritualism. 

IV. How Christianity appears at the beginning of 
the fourth century. It is an autonomous religion, very 
hostile to Judaism. — The "rule of faith." — The Church 
and the churches. — Christian exclusiveness. 

VIII. The Foundation and tbe Organization of the 

Church 125 ./ 

y I. Christ neither founded nor desired the Church. 

( — The Galilean Apostles do not seem to have thought 

J of her either.— The Gospel passages silent on this 

a!P point. — The myth of Peter's primacy. — Without desir- 

V ing it the Apostles have prepared the Church. — The 

body of the faithful and the Church of God. — Paul's 
idea of it previous to any ecclesiastical organization. 
— How the necessity of such an organization imposes 
itself. — The idea of the Church at the beginning of the 
id century. 
H.) The origin of the local churches. The models 
red in their organization. — Pagan associations 
and synagogues. — Necessity creates functions. — 
Rapidity of the movement. — Various influences favor- 
ing the institution of clergy and the advent of the 

III. The monarchic episcopate. Its origin. — Causes 
leading to the suppression of a plural episcopate, a 
defense against heretics and a respect for Apostolic 
tradition. — The bishop the president of the presby- 



terion. — Ignatius' theory of episcopacy. — External 
causes which favor its general adoption. — The epis- 
copal lists. 

IV. The election of the bishop. — The conditions of 
his eligibility. His powers and their limits. — Clerical 
opposition. — The institution of the ordo clericaUs 
and its degrees. — How the Christians distinguish the 
clergy from the laity. 

V. The Catholic idea of the Church. — Its main 
components. — The role of the Apostolic Churches and 
the unique position of the Church of Rome. — The 
Church on the threshold of the third century. 



IX. The Establishment of Church Doctrine and 

Dispjpune 144 

I^Becoming a Christian in the beginning of the 
second century : baptism^ its nature and its sig- 
nificance. — The three main types of the Christological 
speculative thought : PaMlinism, Johannism, Docetism. 
— Their common tendency and how it developed 
among the generality of the faithful. — The demands 
oi the faith in ethics and ritual. 

II. The development of ritualism. — Complicates the 
/ entry into the Church. — The catechwnvenate and the 
/ arcanum. — The institution of the catechumenate. — 
*-= — - The competentcs. — The ritual complication of baptism. 

III. The development of belief. Dominated both 
by the influence of the simple-minded and of the 
philosophers. — The illusion of fixity and the "rule of 
faith." — Its history. — How the problem of the Trinity 
is presented. — Its development in the second century. 
— The opposition to dogmatic evolution. — The 
Ebionites and the Alogi. 

IV. The development of ecclesiastical life. — The 
life of the Christian tends to greater ritualism. — The 
origin of the Mass, and the significance which the 
Eucharist tends to assume. — Transubstantiation. 

V. Penance. — Its character. — Its ritual regulation 
still very simple. — No other sacraments at the begin- 
ning of the third century. 

X. The Conflict with the State and with Society 162 

CI. How this conflict impedes Christianity. — The 
responsibility for it. — The Christians' rejection of the 
claims of the State. — Christianity opposed to social 
demands. — The current opinion concerning the Chris- 
tians and its practical importance. 

II. How the State regards Christianity in the third 
century : Christianity akin to anarchy. — Rulers who 
persecuted it ; the reasons for the non-success of their 
persecutions. — How the change of front of the State 
and of society is prepared. — The compromise of Con- 
stantine, and the edict of Milan. — Its causes and the 
fundamental instability of its conditions. 

III. The concessions made by the Church and their 




limits. — Why Constantine's attitude had become 
untenable. — The State Church at the end of the fourth 
century. — The end of paganism. — How and why the 
resistance of the aristocracy was overcome. — The 
resistance of the intellectuals. — The resistance of the 
country people; their apparent acceptance of Chris- 

XI. The Significance of the Triumph 177 

I. The price of the victory of Christianity. — It is 
the Church that triumphs. — The perfecting of clerical 
organization. — The evolution of sacerdotalism and of 
theology. — Doctrinal disputes and orthodoxy — Funda- 
mental syncretism and the assumption of formality. 
— The popular impulse. — The part played by monach- 
ism. — The first stages of Christian evolution ; con- 
trasts and coherences. 

II. How the early Christian hope has been trans- 
formed ; the effects of this change. — How the victory 
accentuates these, though it is but in appearance only. 
— The Church's responsibility ; it becomes one aspect 
of the Roman State, of which in the fifth century it is 
the heir. — Material advantages and spiritual draw- 
backs of this relationship. — How the idea, and the 
fact, of the distinction between the "believers" and 
the "perfect" is grounded in the Church, and its prac- 
tical consequences. 

III. The triumph considered from the point of view 
of religious history. — The western world and primi- 
tive Christianity. — How the latter represents a syn- 
cretism resulting from the religious needs of the East. 
— Rival cults : Mithra ; Neoplatonism ; Manicheism. 

IV. The three religions and the fourth century. — 
Resemblances between them ; the practical inferiority 
of Neoplatonism, and the superior position of Mani- 
cheism. — Why the Roman State proscribes it. and 
why Christianity can cope with it. — The reason that it 
triumphs over it. — The persistence of Neoplatonism 
and Manicheism, even after the victory of Chris- 
tianity; their influence in the future. 





XII. The Remote Middle Ages 201 

I. The reasons why the Western Church hence- 
forth demands our attention. — The solidifying of the 
Eastern Church. — The separation of the two, and 
its consequences. 

II. St. Augustine, as marking the end of classical 
times and the beginning of the Middle Ages. — The 
extent and profundity of his influence ; his affirma- 
tion of the principle of the authority of the Church. 
— The necessity, for the unlearned, of such a prin- 
ciple, to them a guarantee of their faith. — The 
reality of movement and life in a setting regarded as 

III. What believers really are at the beginning of 
the fifth century. — A fundamental paganism lies be- 
neath the apparent Christianity ; the entry of the 
barbarians into the faith, and the characteristics of 
their Christianity. — The Church's servitude, and its 
greatness, in the sixth and seventh centuries. — What 
the religion of the Middle Ages at their beginning 
really was. — The worship of saints and relics. — 
Various pagan survivals. — Dogma passes to a second 
plane. — How this religion comes to terms with the 
morals and the culture of the time. 

IV. The attempt to rise; the monks and the rulers 
of the nations. — Charlemagne ; Alfred the Great ; the 
Othos. — The significance and the bearing of the 
Carlovingian renascence. — The exceptional and the 
anticipatory position of Erigena Scotu-s. — The dif- 
ference between the religion of the learned and of 
the people; its disadvantage in the present, and its 
danger for the future. — The activity of the faith of 
the simple-minded in these days. 

V. The Carlovingian decadence and feudal dis- 
order. — Its effect upon religion, upon the Christian 
life, and upon the Church. — The life of the clergy. — 
The faith and the practice of the Christian laity. — 
The Church's reaction to feudal anarchy. — The 
monastic movement; the example of Cluny. — Its in- 
fluence upon churchmanship and upon the establish- 
ment of papal power. 

XIII. The Origin of Papacy 227 

I. The orthodox doctrine of the nature and origin 
of Papacy. — The historical reality. — The preeminence 
of the bishop of Rome in the earlier centuries ; its 
causes, nature, and limits. — Various examples: St. 
Cyprian and Stephen of Rome; the African bishops 



and Zosimus ; the affair of the Three Chapters. — The 
frequency of breaches with Rome.. 

II. Patristic writings a confirmation of facts ; ex- 
amples of this. — The independence of the ancient 
Councils with respect to Rome. — The scandals of 
Liberius and Honorius I. — The silence of St. Augus- 
tine, St. Vincent de Lerins, of the heresiologians. of 
Isodorus of Seville and of Dionysius the Areopagite 
with regard to the papal "primacy." — The hesitation 
of the bishop of Rome to lay claim to it. 

III. The causes which establish the Pop&s prh- 
maute d'honneur and prepare the way for his pri- 
maute' de jurisdiction. — The government of the 
Church, in its evolution, apparently aiming at mon- 
archy. — The concurrence of the Gospel passages, and 
the first appeal to them made by the Pope. 

IV. The historical bases for the success of the 
Pope; their political character. — The Byzantine 
tutelage ; the Lombard peril ; the Frankish tutelage ; 
the Roman anarchy ; the German tutelage. — The 
theory of the Germanic Holy Roman Empire. — The 
advantages reaped by the Pope from all these. 

V. The establishing of pontifical doctrine. — The 
juridical forgeries. — The forged decretals, and their 
importance. — How they continue to perfect them- 
selves. — Gratianus, Martin of Troppau, etc. — The 
work juridical and not theological. 

VI. The political aspect of the doctrine. — The 
temporal sovereignty of the Pope. — The monks' 
propaganda in his favor. — Similar action due to vari- 
ous external causes ; the struggle of the priesthood 
with the Empire ; the Crusades : their intellectual 


XIV. Scholasticism 256 

I. Definitions. — The origin of the word Scholastic; 
the origin of Scholasticism itself. — The fundamental 
problem propounded by the Schools ; its antiquity. — 
How the Fathers view it. — Why it appears more 
complicated in the eleventh century. — The aim of 
Scholasticism to constitute a science of faith. — Its 
method : rationalistic dialectic. — How it interprets 
the relation between faith and reason. 

II. How the problem is expressed in the "Summae." 
— How it is renewed froyn without; the successive 
secular sources of Scholasticism. — Dionysius the 
Areopagite ; the origin, sense and fate of his writ- 
ings. — The advent of Aristotle. — The early resistance 
of the Church : the reason for her yielding. — The 
danger to theology in adopting Aristotelianism. — 
How it was modified. — The harmonizing of influ- 
ences : the Thomist syncretism. 

III. General characteristics of Scholasticism ; to 
what extent it is a kind of modernism. — The official 
opposition to St. Thomas. — The dangers to orthodoxy 
concealed in Scholasticism. — Apparent immobility of 



Scholasticism ; its actual evolution ; its stages. — Its 
final failure. — The efforts it evoked; the great mas- 
ters ; their unlikenesses. 

IV. The dispute concerning nominalism and real- 
ism. — Its ancient origin : Porphyrius. — The terms 
of the problem. — Its importance for the Church and 
for common sense. — The nominalist theses of Rosceli- 
nus and their result. — Their official condemnation 
and their persistence in the Schools. — Abelard and 
concept ualism ; its influence. — The Ockhamist revival 
of nominalism. — How it involves the separation of 
philosophy and theology. 

V. The intensiveness of the Scholastic life; it does 
not reach either the inferior clergy or the people. — 
The harm it does to Christian thought. — The reac- 
tion of the mystics. — What Christianity owes to 
the Schools. — The progress in dogma that they pro- 
moted : the Immaculate Conception ; the sacraments ; 
the doctrines of expiation. — Indulgences. — The im- 
portance assumed by the sacrament of penance. — 
Scholasticism promoted the ritualizing of the faith ; 
it strengthened pontiflcalism as a dogma. — The 
future danger of these operations and of Scholas- 
ticism in general. 

XV. The Opposition to the Church. The Reac- 
tion of Eeligious Sentiment and of Anti- 
clericalism 281 

I. The various modes of resistance to the Church. 
— This resistance regarded as heresy. — It does not 
encounter favorable conditions. — The general char- 
acter of most medieval heresies. 

II. The reactions of religious sentiment. — Mys- 
ticism a great element of difficulty in the Church. — 
The various kinds of mystics in the Middle Ages. — 
The Apocalyptic mystics and the Pneumatists. — 
Giacomo of Flora. — The Everlasting Gospel and the 
theory of the three ages. — The Spirituals. — How 
their hopes are transferred : the exalting of ecclesi- 
astical poverty. — Their persecution and the per- 
sistence of their influence. — The mystics of the 
Schools; Eckart, Tauler, Suso, etc. — The nature of 
their speculative thought ; its methods. — The uneasi- 
ness they evoke in the Church. — The penitent 
Mystics. — The Flagellants ; their hostility to the 

III. The frequency of anticlerical heresies. — Peter 
de Bruys ; Tauchelm ; Eon of Loudeac ; Henry of 
Lausanne ; the Apostolic Brethren. — The Catharists 
and the revival of Manicheism. — The spread of Cath- 
arism ; its main doctrines ; its anticlericalism. — The 
Church can get rid of it only through the secular 
arm. — The Waldenses ; their origin. — Peter Waldo 
and the Poor Men of Lyons. — Their early good in- 
tentions ; their revolt against the Church ; their suc- 
cess among the poor ; its extent and duration. 



IV. The orthodox sects and confraternities ichose 
spirit is opposed to that of the Church. — The 
Patarini. — The Beguines and the Beghards. — The 
Brethren of the Common Life. — The spirit of the 
Imitation. — The sects clearly hostile to the Church; 
the Brethren of the Free Spirit and the Ortlibians. — 
Their doctrine and its consequences for the Church, 
for orthodoxy, and for society. 


XVI. The Opposition to the Church in the Middle 
Ages, the Eeactions of Religious Thought, 
the Scientific Spirit, and Free Thought . 

I. The independence of religious thought. — 
Amaury de Bene's doctrine, condemned by many 
Councils, yet spreading. — The influence of Averroes ; 
his doctrine defined in general terms. — Weakness of 
the resistance of the Church and her capitulation. 

II. Science in the form of occultism. — Current 
opinion of the occult sciences ; the uncertainty of 
the Church's attitude in the beginning; developing 
into credulity ; the rigorous measures of the thir- 
teenth century. — Influence of the Papacy. — The In- 
quisition makes witchcraft a heresy ; the deplorable 
consequences of the Church policy in this matter. 

III. Science proper; its characteristics in the 
Middle Ages. — Aristotle's influence in its develop- 
ment. — Roger Bacon's example. — His being ahead 
of his age makes his work of no value to it. — Free 
thought; its existence in the Middle Ages, and its 
limits at that time. — The Church censorship of 

IV. How the Church acts toward her enemies. — 
Excommunication ; the appeal to secular authority ; 
heresy a social peril. — Development of intolerance 
and the organization of the Inquisition ; its pro- 
cedure and its spirit; its effect on religion. 

V. The popular state of mind with regard to re- 
ligion and the Church. — The dangers threatening the 
Church's evolution. 


XVII. Church Development from the Eleventh to 
the Fourteenth Centuries. The Triumph 
of Sacerdotalism 

I. A neio theory of the Church, identifying it 
with the clerical hierarchy. — The place of the clergy 
in social life; the doctrine of the two swords.— Con- 
cessions of the laity to the clerics; to what extent 
the Church is equalitarian. — The force she draws 
from her supernatural power; and the expression of 
this in the State and in social life. — The abuses 
which result ; the laity's objections to the clergy, 
and their bearing. — What the cleric is to his age. 

II. Why the clergy are not equal to their task. — 






Status of the inferior clergy and their lack of cul- 
ture; the superior clergy and simony. — The clerical 
order too numerous. — Doubtful elements in their 
ranks; their way of life. — The crisis of the thir- 
teenth century. — The new orders and the Mendicant 
Friars ; their activities and tendencies. 

III. The Pope's attempt at centralization. — His 
position as the reputed principle of the sacerdotal 
order. — He raises himself above the bishops ; the 
complaisance of the bishops and its causes. — Sul> 
mission of the Council. — Personal influence of such 
Pontiffs as Gregory VII, Innocent III, Boniface 
VIII. — The doctrine of pontifical sovereignty and 
Philippe le Bel's opposition. 

IV. The pontifical ideal and the real state of 
affairs contrasted. — The Church's consummate vices 
of simony and nicolaism ; Gregory's efforts to com- 
bat them. — Their success slow and long contested. 
— Current opinion of the clergy in the twelfth and 
thirteenth centuries. 

V. The establishment of pontifical government: 
the curia: — The cardinals. — Supreme importance of 
the curia, though the Church does not become an 
oligarchy. — Complaints of the cupidity of Rome. — 
Her bad example gradually spreading to the clergy. 
— The futility of these recriminations. 

VI. The mystic greatness of the pontifical vision, 
and the impossibility of realising it. — How it be- 
comes mingled with a human scheme for domination 
and for the exploiting of mankind. — The opposition 
of various kinds that it encounters. — The need and 
the desire for a reformation of the Church ; its re- 
ligious significance. 

XVIII. The Babylonish Captivity, the Great Schism, 
and the Pope's Triumph Over the Attempt 
at Reform 343 

I. The signs which herald the Reformation. — The 
Pope's position with regard to the question of re- 
form. — How the papal throne came to be established 
in Avignon. — The various difficulties arising out of 
this transplantation. — Its effect on matters of finance 
and politics and on secularism. 

II. The Pope's enemies profit. — Opposition of the 
"Fratricelli." — William of Ockham. — The Defensor 
pacis and its bold claims. — The trouble in the Church 
at the beginning of the fourteenth century. — The 
mistake made by those who demand a reform of 
persons only, and the first indications of a more pro- 
found movement ; John Wyclif . — The theory of con- 
ciliation. — William of Ockham's theology and its 
logical import ; how its originator limits this. 

III. The Pope's return to Rome and the Great 
Schism. — How Christendom is sundered, and the dis- 
tress of the faithful. — The lamentable state of the 
Church in the opening years of the fifteenth century. 



— Recourse to the Council; its early efforts aggra- 
vate the evil. — The Council of Constance, and the 
principles of reform which it propounds. — Their 
effect overwhelmed by the eagerness to put an end 
to the schism. — How the Pope takes advantage of 
the Hussite movement to escape reform. 

IV. The Pope and the Council of Basle. — The 
decisive engagement and the Pope's victory ; how he 
abuses it. — The scandalous Pontiffs. — Leo X and the 
Pastor aeternus Bull. — The doctrine of the Papacy 
now completed ; the Pope a secular prince. — A re- 
ligious revolution inevitable. 



XIX. Humanism 


I. The sources of humanism. — The events which 
further its expansion : the taking of Constanti- 
nople ; the art of printing ; voyages of discovery. — 
Restoration of the ancient authority of experiment 
and the laicizing of culture. 

II. The early reactions of humanism, on religion ; 
their varying effects. — Italian scepticism. — Laurent 
Valla and the paganizing humanists. — The revival 
of ancient philosophy. — Kabbala and theosophy. — 
The danger to orthodoxy of the ancient systems. 

III. The true bearing of this intellectual move- 
ment. — Its share of insincerity and illusions. — Its 
modernist spirit. — The Christian humanists: Mar- 
cilo Ficini ; Picci de la Mirandola. — The surprising 
attitude of certain Popes with respect to humanism. 
— Pomponio Leto's "Academy." — The monks the 
enemies of humanism in the Church. — Savonarola's 
attempt ; its medieval character. — The reason of- 
ficial theology is powerless against humanism, and 
the sterility of the Ockbamist nominalism. 

IV. The Humanist movement outside Italy. — 
In France it remains Christian, but is modernized. 
— The movement in Germany and the Netherlands. 
— Its early timidity and its boldness afterward. 
— Ulrich von Hiitten, Reuchlin and Erasmus. — 
Their reticences and hesitations. — Neither free- 
thinkers nor agnostics, they expand the Christian 

V. The revival of the scientific spirit. — The 
changes in geography and cosmography ; the influ- 
ence of Copernicus. — The attitude adopted by the- 
ology. — How far it views the matter aright ; Leon- 
ardo da Vinci's example. 



XX. The Reformation 384 

I. The effect of humanism on religious thought. — 
How this leads to the Reformation. — The signifi- 
cance of this movement. 

II. The favoring conditions it encounters at the 
beginning of the sixteenth century. — The morals 
and habits of the clergy ; their responsibility in 
the crisis. — Their exploitation of credulity ; their 
irregularities not tending to scepticism. — Individual 
attempts at the improvement of the Church ; their 
inadequacy. — The reform of the monastic orders 
and its lack of success. — How the ground is being 
prepared for a colossal movement. 

III. How Luther is drawn into a fundamental 
movement against the Pope. — The social conse- 
quences of the Reformation. — Peasant revolts ; their 
failure and their consequences. 

IV. The Reformation incomplete on its religious 
side. — The reasons. — The varying success of the 
Reformation in different countries. — Inadequacy 
of the Reformers' emancipation ; capital problems 
left untouched. — The fruitful results of their prin- 
ciple of a free examination of the Scriptures. — The 
breach in Catholic unity. — Vain efforts to remedy it. 

V. The evolution of the Reformed Churches. — 
How it tends to entire adogatism and to personal 
religion. — The lesson to be drawn from it. 

XXI. The Catholic Reform; the Jesuits and the 

Council of Trent 403 

I. Resistance of the Church to the Reformation. 
— The Pope and his auxiliaries. — The new orders. — 
The Society of Jesus ; its activity, role, spirit. — 
How far it appears to be original. — Its passion for 

II. The Council of Trent. — The influence of the 
Jesuits. — Their work for pontiflcalism. — The Coun- 
cil's abandonment of its supremacy to the profit 
of the Pope. — The value given by the Jesuits to 
the Thomist doctrines in the definition of ortho- 
doxy. — Precautions taken against outside influences. 
— Sixtus V and the organization of the Roman 

III. The results of the Catholic Reform. — The 
struggle with Protestantism. — Clerical transforma- 
tion and the discipline imposed upon the faithful. — 
The religious value of these results upon (1) the 
pupils of the Jesuits, (2) the general community of 
the faithful. — Predominance of the practices of re- 
ligion over its spirit. — The confirmation of super- 
stitions. — Dangerous concessions to appearances. 

IV. The supreme imprudence. — The irrevocable 
fixation of the orthodox faith in the theological 
forms of the past. — How it has barred the way for 
Roman Catholicism in the future. 


XXII. The Age of Enlightenment 417 

I. Definition of the term. — The converging in- 
fluences which prepare the age of enlightenment. — 
The critical spirit of the Reformers acquires acute- 
ness and audacity. — The development of research 
and the consolidation of the scientific spirit. — The 
changes in cosmogony. — The expansion of experi- 
mental sciences. — The rise of ecclesiastical history 
and of exegetics. — The outlines of naturalism: 
Bruno, Campenella, Bacon. 

II. The opposition of orthodox theology: po- 
lemics and abuse. — Their ultimate futility. — The 
emancipation of philosophy: Descartes. — The fruit- 
ful future of Cartesianism, and the reasons for 
delay in its accomplishment. — The sceptics of the 
seventeenth century. — Spinoza the great contro- 
versialist. — The slight influence of the libertines. — 
The rigidity of the seventeenth century in respect 
of criticism. — The combined effort of the Church 
and the civil power to maintain this rigidity. 

III. The secret preparation for rationalism in the 
latter half of the seventeenth century ; how it may 
be perceived. — Fontenelle, Bayle and Locke. — Anti- 
Christian English writers. — David Hume and natu- 
ral religion. — The general spirit of the eighteenth 
century with regard to religious matters. 

IV. French philosophers. — The twofold trend of 
thought influencing them. — The critics from Mon- 
tesquieu to d'Holbach. — The Voltairian position. — 
The Encyclopedists. — The materialists. — The "senti- 
mental" school ; Rousseau's forerunners. — The pro- 
fession de foi du vicaire Savoyard, and the effect 
produced by it. — The English sentimentalists. — The 
general mental attitude toward the year 17S9. — 
How it is that the Church profits by the efforts 
of the sentimentalists. — The attempt made by Ger- 
man philosophy and the method of criticism. — Free- 

V. The opposition of the Church; its weakness. 
— The Sorbonne. — The persistence of faith and even 
of fanaticism. — The anticlericalism of enlightened 
despotism. — Anti- Jesuitism, and the apparent sup- 
pression of the Order of Jesuits in 1793. 

VI. The revolutionary crisis. — Popular sentiment. 
— Bonaparte and the Concordat. — Why the age of 
enlightenment yielded negative results only. 

XXIII. Liberalism, Criticism and Science versus 

Theology 451 

I. The reaction at the beginning of the nine- 
teenth century. — The throne and the altar in alli- 
ance. — Catholic writers, and the effort made by 
Rome. — The Hirari vos encyclical. — The papal 
power jeopardizing religion in politics. — The at- 




tempt to establish a liberal Catholic party, con- 
demned by the Pope. — Catholicism apparently tak- 
ing the part of the reactionaries. 

II. The Church confronted by science. — The 
rashness of her attitude. — How she drives criticism 
onward to examine into theological claims. 

III. Inadequacy of eighteenth-century criticism. 
— The new position assumed by problems in the 
nineteenth. — Kant and the philosophical problem. — 
The verifications of pure reason. — The restorations 
of practical reason. — David Strauss and the his- 
torical problem. — Schleiermacher and the religious 
problem. — Religious experience and personal Chris- 
tianity. — The trend of thought in the nineteenth 

IV. The scientific movement. — Theological ex- 
pedients. — Darwin and- the problem of species. — 
Theological opposition to his theory ; the gravity 
of the question. — The change of front on the part 
of the apologists. — This operation frequently re- 
peated. — Wherein it is deceptive. — The doctrine of 
parallel planes for faith and reason and its weak- 
ness. — Apologetics and the scientific mind. — Au- 
thoritative theology and the modern consciousness. 

XXIV. The Triumph of Romanism 470 

I. The official position of the Roman authority 
vis-a-vis of the modern spirit. — Article LXXX of 
the Syllabus. — Attempts to lessen its scope; their 
futility. — The attitude assumed by Gregory XVI, 
Pius IX, Pius X. — Leo XIII an apparent exception. 
— The inalienable rights of the Church and of the 

II. The immutability of the doctrine; the stagna- 
tion of dogmatic thought from the Council of Trent. 
— The Immaculate Conception and the Infallibility : 
their significance and importance. — Other acquisi- 
tions of the faith. — Christianity engulfed. — Adog- 
matism and ritualism and the faithful. — How far 
appearances are deceiving. 

III. The Church cannot isolate her faithful from 
the current of life. — The modernist movement ; how 
far it is in accordance with the tradition and his- 
tory of the Church. — How the whole intellectual 
effort of the nineteenth century drew educated 
Catholics into itself. — The attempts of Lammen- 
nais, Montalembert and Lacordaire, Moehler and 
his environment. 

IV. The crisis of 1904- — The significance and 
scope of the modernist claim. — The profound causes 
of its failure. — It leads to anti-Romanism in a 
Church in which the Roman Pontiff is king. — Pon- 
tifical resistance imposed by necessity. — Why the 
Pope remains the victor. — The real value of his 


Conclusion 496 

I. The collective impressions to be deduced from 
our study. — Tlie essentially Oriental nature of 
Christianity. — The composite materials which have 
built it up in the East. — The first Christian syn- 
cretism; the doctrine of salvation. — The reasons 
which assure its superiority to similar religious 
embodiments. — Its establishment upon the Hellenic 
terrain. — In consequence, the penetration of Greek 
metaphysics into its doctrine. — The second syn- 
cretism; establishment of systematic theology. — The 
work of the Alexandrines. — The realism of dogmas 
to Eastern minds. — How it is that Western minds 
are unable to comprehend them. 

II. In ichat respect the Western peoples have 
never understood Christianity. — How they adapted 
it for themselves. — They make a theological code 
out of it. — This code embodied in the Catholic 
Church. — The real characteristics of this grandiose 
construction. — Christianity in appearance only in 
possession of the masses of the faithful. — The real 
essence of this religion. 

III. The second Eastern influence on the Chris- 
tianity of the Middle Ages. — The predominance of 
the influences of the social and intellectual milieu 
on the practice of religion. — How the successive 
adaptations of this religion maintain its contact 
with life. — The crisis in which Catholicism at last 
finds itself wholly logical. — Different conditions 
prevailing in the Protestant Churches and the 
Greek Church. — The inevitable issue. 


It is a difficult undertaking to define "religion" 

religion in itself, so as. to cover that which exists beneath 
the different semblances of special religions, that which is 
common to them all and survives them all, and constitutes 
the indestructible foundation upon which each is estab- 
lished before it is arranged to suit the needs and the 
tastes of those who proclaim it. So difficult an undertak- 
ing is it that until now nobody has succeeded in accom- 
plishing it in a way that satisfies everybody. It always 
seems as if the object overlaps its definition, at any 
rate on one side. So diverse, in fact, do the constituent 
elements of a religion, ever so slightly complex, reveal 
themselves when analyzed, and so widely varied the 
aspects m which they may be regarded, that one despairs 
of finding any formula elastic enough to contain or 
assume them all. On the other hand, when one has 
taken the trouble to study two or three religions closely, 
to take them to pieces, as it were, part by part, and to 
seek exact information about the methods and extent 
of their influence, one certainly discovers similar prin- 
ciples and agencies, common aspirations, the same ambi- 
tion to rule the community and even to regulate the 
lives of individuals, as well as yet other resemblances. 
Nevertheless each, considered by itself, presents a 
special appearance of its own. It has its characteristic 
features, its way of life and method of action which often 
exclude those of others, its individual application to 
social or personal or family life, to action and thought- 
so that finally the differences which divide it from the 


2 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

rest may appear more striking and really more essential 
than the resemblances between it and them. The cavern 
inhabited by the troglodyte, the hut of the savage, the 
tent of the nomad, the house, whether modest or sumptu- 
ous, of the settler, and the palace of his chiefs evidently 
all respond to the same essential need, that of providing 
a shelter from the tempestuous elements. They afford 
similar service to men whose needs vary greatly; and, 
as a matter of fact, they resemble each other sufficiently 
to be compared. Nevertheless, he who attempted to 
apply a common definition to them all would have to 
be satisfied with so restricted an indication that in it 
we could actually recognize nothing more than the most 
elementary form of human dwelling. So, too, it is impos- 
sible to characterize by the same terms the religion of 
an Australian aboriginal tribe and the Christian religion, 
for instance, except by disregarding all that the second 
contains more than the first. This is why I am inclined 
to believe that history has not much to hope for from 
these attempts at synthesis, however interesting they 
may appear at first sight, supported by noteworthy 
savants for the purpose of comprehending the Absolute 
Religion, and summing up its essence in a phrase. An 
exact analysis of each religion,, and a comparison of it 
with the previous or contemporary beliefs and practices 
which may have affected it, form, in any case, the 
peculiar province of historical research. 

In putting it to the test, we soon become convinced 
that it is a difficult task, not, to be sure, when one is 
dealing with a very simple form of religion, but when 
one is trying to account for the structure and existence 
of a religion that obtains in a sphere of advanced culture. 
The most superficial examination at once reveals that 
it is not one; that there is neither homogeneity in the 
diverse parts of its body, nor coherence in the varied 
manifestations of its activity, nor solidarity in the dif- 
fering expressions of its ideas. "We might say that it 
is composed of stratified layers, each of which cor- 
responds with a social class, or if you prefer, with a 


stage of social culture. However little we reflect upon 
this, we soon cease to be astonished at it, for if it seems 
natural that each community should create a religion 
that suits it, it is no less true that in the same com- 
munity each special social sphere, each " world," as we 
say, should create for itself out of this religion the 
variety which responds to its particular needs. It has 
been rightly observed that in the last stages of the 
Roman Republic the religion of the slaves was two or 
three centuries behind that of their masters. This 
remark may be more universally applied, and if history 
shows us that religions, considered as a whole, are 
developed and perfected along lines that are parallel 
and contemporaneous with the progress of the culture, 
one of the main aspects of which they are, it also enables 
us to ascertain that the evolution of each of them, like 
that of the community itself, is the result of a whole 
series of movements, still parallel, but no longer con- 
temporaneous, which are going on in the different social 

Are these mere truisms? Undoubtedly, yet they are 
truisms which must be repeated, because the best 
informed of men often forget them, or at any rate, speak 
of religions as if they had forgotten them. 

Instinctively or, if you like it better thus, from a 
mental incapacity to act otherwise, the populace that has 
not learned, and does not know how, to reflect always 
cleaves (even in communities which have a high standard 
of refinement) to religious conceptions and practices 
which do not correspond exactly either with the teach- 
ings of the recognized religion, nor with the mentality 
of its learned ministrants, nor yet with the conception 
of its dogmas and tenets which prevails among enlight- 
ened believers. This popular religion, when analyzed, is 
revealed as a syncretism, a medley of beliefs and cus- 
toms, differing in origin, age and meaning, and only 
existing side by side because those who accept them 
never compare them. We readily recognize, as soon 
as we study the matter, that this syncretism is made up 

4 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

of disconnected survivals, the debris of several religious 
organizations of past ages, upon which the present is 
established as well as it may be. The people, especially 
the rural populations, never make a clean sweep of their 
religious beliefs and rites; they spontaneously adapt 
them to the new religion imposed upon them, or else, 
should this religion refuse to entertain them, they drive 
them further back into the recesses of their conscious- 
ness and the depths of their inner being, where they 
remain as active superstitions. It will be understood 
that I am stating the case simply, and that the syncretism 
of which I am speaking has degrees, extending from 
the most ignorant boors to men who already possess a 
certain amount of culture, for superstition is by no means 
the exclusive privilege of the simple-minded. Our large 
towns have their magicians and their prophetesses, 
whose announcements are distributed in the highways 
or reach us by post, and their alluring promises are 
published by important newspapers. All this advertise- 
ment is not addressed to the people alone, but it is in 
the people, especially in the peasant class, that the 
religious memories of the past, transmitted from age 
to age, some of which go back to the most elemen- 
tary conceptions of primitive religious belief, are to be 
found in the deeper layers, more or less openly 
combining with the tenets of the governing religion of 
the present. 

These popular primitive heirlooms exist everywhere. 
They are objects of scorn and detestation for every reli- 
gion which has not been directly derived from them, but 
they always react upon such a religion, and, to tell the 
truth, no religion can exist without coming to terms with 
them. Religion does not confess this; often, indeed, it 
does not suspect that this is the case ; but it allows itself 
to be more or less profoundly affected by their influence ; 
it assimilates part of their substance and thus con- 
tributes, in spite of itself, to insure their survival. 

A religion, of whatever sort it may be, does not fall 
ready-made from heaven; it is born of some special 


initiative or of some general need; then, as we have 
already said, it organizes itself and nourishes itself 
by what it imbibes from the various religious spheres in 
which it is induced to live. It is not of this phenomenon 
that I really desire to speak here, but rather of the more 
or less active, and also more or less rapid, reaction of 
the religious mentality of the ignorant, of these popular 
primitive heirlooms to a religion which is completely 
organized and, apparently, perfected. This is a constant 
reaction, the effects of which, as is quite natural, make 
themselves most felt at those periods in the life of reli- 
gion when either by means of their numbers, by their zeal- 
ous activities, or by the defection of the educated, simple, 
ignorant folk exercise a predominating influence. 

Is an example needed? Christianity, considered at a 
given time, not only in the real effectiveness of its pop- 
ular practice, but, if I may say so, in the entirety of its 
religious and social life, submitted to a push from below 
and yielded to the demands of the religious instincts 
and of the superstitions which, in theory, it had tried 
to overthrow, at three special moments in its history. 
The first was in the fourth and fifth centuries, when 
the entry of the urban commoners and the rural popula- 
tions en masse into the Church was brought about, and 
then that of the Germanic hordes. The second occurred 
in the tenth and eleventh centuries, when the really 
intellectual activity of the Western world, reduced to 
the thought of a handful of monks, unresistingly left 
a free field to popular religiosity and ignorant mysticism. 
The third occasion, finally, is our own age in which all 
active and fertile thought, because it necessarily adapts 
itself to the demands of a science established outside the 
faith, seems like a deadly danger to orthodoxy. An age 
in which educated men one after another turn away from 
the teachings and practices of the churches. Soon, no 
doubt, the only " right-thinking' ' people will be the 
believers who do not think at all, or think only in terms 
of the past if the drift of a reasoned faith, the religious 
expression of intellectual culture, tends to devotion, and 

6 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

to forms of devotion in which the suggestions derived 
from popular primitive heirlooms alone seem to benefit. 
Moreover, the survey which will be developed in the 
various chapters of this book will produce for these pre- 
liminary considerations the de facto justification they 

It may happen that many distinct religions exist side 
by side in the same community. At the outset they 
present one common feature, namely, that they are all 
based upon the popular primitive heirlooms of which we 
have spoken, except those which are limited to a small 
group of initiates who carry to an extreme the religious 
sentiment of their times. In the second place, though the 
points of contact between them differ, the results pro- 
duced in all cases are clearly similar. By this I mean 
that, whether the attitude be one of hostility or sym- 
pathy, these contacts determine exchanges and syncre- 
tistic combinations of which those who effect them are, 
as a rule, unconscious. And they are, as it were, mani- 
festations of an endosmosis which experience proves to 
be inevitable. They are produced, in the corresponding 
stages, between one religion and another. In other 
words, we find, for instance, a kind of sympathy and 
even solidarity established, which neither debates nor 
disputes can obscure, between the religions which are 
shared by "intellectuals." Within the differing 
schemes of dogma and liturgy, there are the same or 
nearly the same conceptions of religion developing, and 
the same mystic aspirations. We might even say that 
in these different religions, at this particular stage, the 
same level of religious sentiment is attained. For those 
who know how to look at it, the instinctive communion 
which tends to grow up between liberal Catholics and 
educated Protestants is an interesting spectacle. Most 
of them, in the one camp as in the other, show them- 
selves very thoroughly surprised if this is mentioned: 
each side protests its independent standpoint and at once 
instances the disagreements. These undoubtedly exist; 
nevertheless the efforts of these men, still attached to 


different creeds betray such conformity that they lead 
alike, we might believe, to a religion under the control 
of science and reason, and to a pragmatism in both of 
the same nature and the same extent. The orthodox 
Catholics, held back by the fear of " modernism," are 
ready to believe this to be due to "Protestant infil- 
trations," whilst certain orthodox Protestants are 
troubled about "Catholic infiltrations"; the truth being 
that men of the same standards of culture on both sides 
are seeking the same balance between their science and 
their faith. 

It is just the same with those in the lower standards 
of culture. There the phenomenon is no doubt less 
clearly visible, because there men's minds are less open, 
less supple; because they are not so given to reflection, 
and above all because religious questions, generally, are 
less discussed among them. It does occur, however. All 
else being equal, the sympathy which in these days we see 
establishing itself between the same social grades from 
one country to another, tending to an internationalism 
of the proletariat, the middle classes and the capitalists, 
at any rate as to their economic interests, may give 
us some idea of what is going on when the same general 
mentality, characteristic of the same intellectual or 
social class, is applied at the same time to several dif- 
ferent religions in the same country. This also accounts 
for the unconsciously unifying sympathy which is 
created and developed between the corresponding strata 
of these parallel religions. 

If this interchange is sufficiently active — and that 
depends upon the intensity of the religious life, which 
again is usually due to a variety of complex causes — 
it may determine the rise of a religious movement which 
may have for issue that coordination of borrowings from 
the past, and that re-formation of bygone elements, 
which is called a new religion, or at any rate, a renas- 
cence, a revival of the established religion. For that 
process to begin and to be pursued, there must first of all 
be a special exciting cause, and it must proceed either 

8 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

from the initiative of one man or the working of a group 
of persons ; then one or two leading ideas must be empha- 
sized to serve as rallying points in relation to which the 
others are established and organized. They need not 
necessarily be very original, these essential conceptions 
of the religion which is being born or reborn. On the 
contrary, they will have more likelihood of succeeding, of 
becoming more firmly implanted in men's consciousness 
if they are already somewhat familiar and express their 
aspirations and desires well, or rather, if they issue from 
them almost entirely. It has been maintained, and not 
without some reason apparently, that it is the milieu 
which creates the hero who is needed by it; it is also the 
milieu which engenders the prophet whom it must have ; 
he it is who is the source of the pressure that causes the 
confession of faith which he feels to be more or less of a 
necessity to well forth. And every milieu to which it is 
transported tends to modify it, to fashion it in accordance 
with its own religious consciousness; and all carry it 
along in ceaseless transformation, through life and to 


The critical study of the beginnings of Christianity 
and the evolution of the Church has now reached its 
proper place in the science of history. It is not, how- 
ever, so advanced as the increasing number of books to 
its credit might make us believe, and many of its conclu- 
sions have not attained the degree of certainty to which 
other branches of erudition have already been raised. 
For this reason, among others, it still, in the minds of 
many learned men, and with the ordinary public who 
read and listen, has to submit to a great deal of mistrust 
and prejudice. Sometimes, indeed, still worse, it encoun- 
ters complete indifference. Practically negligible, or 
nearly so, in the countries of Protestant formation and 
Germanic culture, these suspicions constitute, in countries 
which are of Catholic tradition and Latin mentality, a 
large and solid obstacle, very difficult to surmount, upon 


which much time and many efforts are spent in vain. 
The truth is, however, the science of past Christianity is 
not entirely responsible for its retardation, for it has 
made a great effort to make up for lost time, and thus 
far has attained results which are everywhere consider- 
able and, upon some essential points, decisive. 

Until the earlier part of the nineteenth century, a 
veritable taboo forbade access to primitive Christianity 
for scholars who were disinterested and, quite uncon- 
cerned about the exploitation of truth in the interests of 
any particular religion, seek it for its own sake. Public 
opinion regarded the history of Christianity as the proper 
domain of clergy and theologians, and, since it was 
scarcely more than that it had some reason for consider- 
ing it as the complement, or rather, as one of the forms 
of apologetics, or a field of research reserved for pure 
erudition. 1 From the days of the Eeformation long 
practice had accustomed it to seeing disputants, Papist 
or Huguenot, plunging both hands into the ancient text, 
as into a well-filled arsenal, where each might always find 
the arguments that suited him. In the course of the 
eighteenth century, the political enemies of the Catholic 
Church, and the "philosophers" who considered her 
dogmas obsolete, had followed the course and sometimes 
the method of Protestant polemics, but their criticism 
seemed no more disinterested than that of the ministers 
of the Reformed Church; it was only the spirit and the 
aim of it that were different. In short, at the beginning 
of the nineteenth century impartially minded men might 
justly imagine that the history of Christianity was 
studied only for the purpose of exalting or abasing the 
Catholic Church. This opinion led to consequences, 
differing according to previous individual prejudices, 
but all agreed that it established, with respect to such 
history, a mistrust difficult to overcome. Some, like the 

x The works of the admirable savants of the sixteenth and seven- 
teenth centuries, such as Baronius, Thomassin, Tillemont Mabillon 
Ruinart, Richard Simon and others, prepared the way for a veracious 
history of the Church by propounding methods and principles and 
unraveling certain problems; but they did not knit it together 

10 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

simple-minded and ignorant, in thrall to the hereditary 
" hypnosis" of a Christian upbringing, which acquiesces 
in or merely suffers, but never criticizes or even reasons 
out, naively submitted to the domination of the taboo, 
and turned aside, as from a sacrilegious and damnable 
enterprise, from research that the Church's teaching ren- 
dered useless, as they believed, and which she condemned. 
Others, won over to scepticism by their natural disposi- 
tion or through some superficial course of reasoning, 
laid down as unassailable the position, revived from 
Cicero, that religion is necessary for the. common people, 
that it constitutes a guarantee of its morality and a 
restraint upon its baser appetites, and that to overthrow 
the established Church would be prejudicial to all classes 
of society. Lastly, others of sluggish mentality or 
rash in their judgments, inclined mistakenly to imagine 
every religion a vast medley of fraud and exploitation 
engineered by the priests, were persuaded that Chris- 
tianity at best merited but a shrug of the shoulders and 
a jest. 

Why not confess this to be so 1 In the Latin countries, 
what is called "le grand public" still stands up for the 
same old points of view in order to justify its attitude 
of indifference with regard to the history of Christian 
origins and of the Church, and its ignorance of the 
methods, the questions taken up, and the results attained. 
And up to now the attitude of public instruction also with 
regard to it has only too fully justified the prejudices of 
which it is the object. To speak only of France, three uni- 
versities alone have been provided by the State with pro- 
fessors for the special purpose of studying Christian 
history, and although these attract many hearers, they 
still win but a small number of students. It cannot be 
otherwise as long as our young men come to the univer- 
sity without having had their attention drawn to such 
questions by their teachers in the secondary school 
(bound as these are by legal obligation to preserve a 
neutral attitude), questions which the scheme of studies 
evidently propounds, but which official duty and the quasi- 


general desire of the masters lead them to shuffle aside 
instead of treating. 

In truth, the reality hidden beneath these things must 
in a measure also bear its degree of responsibility. By 
this I mean that such a study can become organized only 
at the expense of much painful effort, and by facing 
manifold difficulties, so hard as to discourage the student. 
Viewed from without and by the uninitiated, it possibly 
does not present a very attractive appearance. Its 
austere aspect, the hesitations and uncertainties involved, 
even its sober restraint, all concur in alienating the 
thoughtless, as well as those whom the positive conclu- 
sions of the exact sciences alone delight. 

First of all, the sources of information at its disposal 
are, more than in other branches of history, mediocre, 
confused, and difficult of utilization. The oldest and on 
the whole the most interesting sources, since they relate 
to Jesus and the early days of the faith, collected in the 
New Testament have themselves exacted a preliminary 
critical inquiry, both long and meticulous, and not yet 
completed; far from it. For a long period it has been 
scarcely possible to seek for any elements or confirma- 
tions outside itself, so that the exegetical writers have 
found themselves obliged to interpret and commentate if 
they would understand. And if they sought to rise above 
textual details, they had to systematize and pile up 
hypotheses. It was a deplorable necessity, which only too 
often handicaps them still, unfortunately, and which too 
many of them light-heartedly accept! Now it some- 
times happens that at the very moment when critical 
work seems to be on a fair way toward success, some 
decisive document is brought to light; a new hypothesis 
springs up, an original point of view gains acceptance, 
which entirely destroys the work done. In this way, in 
the last fifteen or twenty years, the synoptic problem 
embracing various problems concerning the first three 
Gospels has, so to speak, suffered an entire reverse ; the 
Pauline problem has undergone renovation, and even 
that of the fourth Gospel, which might have been con- 

12 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

sidered settled, has been propounded afresh in a different 
form. These ficklenesses and doublings of criticism — 
and examples would be easy to multiply — these perpetual 
shifts in point of view and system have but one cause: 
the documents by themselves furnish no connected and 
coherent history of Christian origins ; they make up only 
fragmentary pictures of it, and the restoration of the 
whole too often remains hypothetical. 

Even outside the early days of the faith, the period 
comprising the second, third and fourth centuries (in 
which orthodox dogma was established, the clerical 
hierarchy constituted, and the liturgy organized) is far 
from being brought into strong relief in all its parts. 
Our texts concerning it are rarely impartial and seldom 
numerous enough to verify each other. The enemies of 
the victorious Church of the fourth century, pagans and 
various dissenters, had written a great deal against her, 
or concerning her; this literature has almost entirely 
disappeared and the little that remains is only enough 
to show us how great would be the service it might 
render. Because it has no alternative but to use (a) 
polemical or exegetical writings mainly, badly emended 
by accounts reputed to be historical, but written long 
after the events and at a time when they were scarcely 
understood, and (b) theological treatises, which reveal 
more of the opinion of the learned than the living faith of 
the simple layman, hardly helped at all by epigraphy 
designedly fashioned to remain vague and imperfect, the 
history of Christianity during the three centuries in 
which the Church was constituted has been worse served 
than any other branch of general history of the same 
period. It is right and necessary that we should not 
forget this fact. None of the difficulties which the history 
of classic times encounters is spared a student of the 
ancient Christian history, and it presents others which 
are impediments peculiar to itself alone. 

On the other hand, it must be admitted that the exege- 
tists and the historians of primitive Christianity have 
frequently lost a good deal of time through propounding 


some of the problems badly. For example, to try to 
extract from the collection of Christian documents alone 
an exact idea of the early times of the Church was to 
give way to a tantalizing delusion. Whether the fact was 
realized or not, the undertaking was inspired by pre- 
judgments of the faith. People could not make up their 
minds to consider the Christian religion as one of the 
religions of humanity; they endeavored to preserve its 
old standing as an originality, and this desire was fed 
from more than one root in the theological postulate of 

At the present time it is generally agreed that to drain 
the Christian sources and give an exact account not only 
of the state of the religious feeling, but of ethics and of 
society in the Greco-Roman world in which the faith was 
to make its way and find its sustenance, does not supply 
material enough for us to understand its underlying 
principle, or very essence, nor to grasp the reasons which 
have given rise to it. It is thought that the secret of its 
birth and early structure is to be found, for the most 
part, in Syria, in Asia Minor, in Egypt, even in Mesopo- 
tamia, throughout the Eastern milieu in which it first 
appeared or found its first vital elements. Meticulous 
study given to the inscriptions, to the familiar documents 
yielded by the papyri and ostraka, 2 begins to throw a 
hitherto unsuspected light upon the New Testament 
language and upon the mentality, customs, aspirations 
and religious habits of the men by whom and for whom it 
was written. The advance made in Eastern archeology, 
properly so called, contributes to the same result. 

Moreover, neither the Christian nor the anti-Christian 

s This is the term used for the scraps of earthenware which, pai- 
ticularly in the Hellenistic world, have been used as writing material. 
We find on them receipts, statements of account, extracts from classical 
authors, various maxims and, among the Christians, verses of Scripture. 
An exceedingly good dictionary, still uncompleted, places at the dis- 
posal of the erudite who apply themselves to the study of the New 
Testament all the linguistic acquisitions which we owe to these various 
documents, recently brought to bear upon the question. Cf. J. H. Moul- 
ton and G. Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament Illustrated 
from the Papyri and Other Non-Literary Sources (London, New York, 
Toronto, 1915). 

14 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

writers have laid down their weapons. The Christians 
are not content with all their efforts to maintain in the 
minds of those who will listen to them — and they are 
many — the conviction that the liberal seekers after truth 
appear as enemies of the faith who are the more dan- 
gerous the more disinterested they seem. They put 
together, both in their schools and in their writings, a 
counter-history of Christianity. By this I mean that, 
while professing to adopt unreservedly the methods of 
scientific criticism, they apply these in their own way 
and in such a fashion that they always lead them — 
mirabile dictu — to conclusions that are in conformity 
with the assertions of tradition. And in the judgment of 
people who are not well informed, this history is as good 
as the other. On the other hand, the anti-clerical 
polemists turn the discoveries of the savants to account. 
It is impossible to prevent mischief of this kind, but the 
science of Christianity does not gain much standing from 
it, and even runs the risk of very annoying complications, 
as far as public opinion is concerned. The thoughtful 
man is not particularly astonished at this outcome, for he 
knows that it takes a long time to dispel appearances. 

What I have just said applies particularly to the study 
of Christianity in classical times, but the history of the 
Church, in medieval, modern and present-day life, pre- 
sents difficulties which, though slightly different, prove 
no less embarrassing. Documents are not wanting, and 
usually they seem fairly easy to interpret, but they are 
very scattered, and if they prove of sufficient interest to 
alter the opinion we are trying to form of the Church 
nowadays, passion and partisanship set to work upon 
them, and it often becomes very difficult to discern and 
determine their true meaning and import. To get a 
clear idea of what I mean, it is enough to think for a 
moment of the disputes concerning — taking things at 
haphazard — for instance monachism, the Inquisition, the 
causes of the Eeformation, the personality of Luther, the 
spirit and the morals of the Papacy at diverse periods, 
casuistry, the Jesuits, the Syllabus of Pius IX, the doc- 


trine of Infallibility, or the policy of Pius X. Little by 
little, time and scholarly patience perform their work, 
and the truth emerges from the strife and imposes itself 
upon the disputants. 

Christian history, however, is far from having entered 
that happy sphere of entire scientific serenity in which 
the seeker, desirous only of finding out the facts, sees 
them as they are, and requires no other service from 
them than to add to his knowledge. Hereditary 
prejudices still taboo many great questions; diverse 
interests, religious, moral, or even political and social, 
lay a snare for scholarly curiosity ; there is the legitimate 
dread of becoming unwillingly involved in polemics, 
which one may fear is not altogether honest and sincere. 
Other obstacles in its path are the gaps, doubts, and the 
disheartening ignorance, to which all true savants con- 
fess ; rash presumptions, premature or shocking hypothe- 
ses, like those which would do away with the very 
existence of Christ ; the clash of systems and the disputes 
of the erudite ; and lastly, the necessity of the prolonged 
and painful effort necessary to follow up complicated 
research and tortuous arguments. All these are hin- 
drances which serve to account, first, for the slowness 
with which the scientific history of Christianity is being 
built up ; and, second, for the existence of a general feel- 
ing of indifference or distrust with regard to it, at least 
in the Latin countries, where the best educated almost 
all display ignorance of it, an ignorance both profound 
and deplorable. 

Nevertheless, to anyone who deigns to look into the 
matter, it is clearly evident that the efforts of generations 
of scholars have not been useless. They have at least 
reached the point of propounding all questions at issue 
upon a basis of positive science. Even the number of 
those problems which they have solved is already large 
enough for their solutions to offer a solid foundation for 
some general conclusions. We do not know everything; 
on many questions we do not even know all the essentials ; 
but we can at least determine the main lines of travel 

16 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

taken in the evolution of Christianity ; we can distinguish 
its principal stages, analyze its essential factors, and 
also, in cases where positive evidence escapes us, we can 
advance with considerable assurance many important 
negations and definitely denounce the falsity of many 
traditions which have long led history astray. All this 
is indeed something of an achievement. 


The genesis and progress of Christianity, viewed from 
without, setting aside not only every theological and 
metaphysical bias, but also any wish actually to compre- 
hend them, appear to be a historical fact of a collective 
order, which may be broken up into parts somewhat as 
follows. In the reign of the emperor Tiberius, a certain 
Jesus of Nazareth arises in Galilee; he speaks and acts 
like a Jewish prophet, announcing the speedy advent of 
the Kingdom of God and exhorting men to become bet- 
ter, that they may secure for themselves a place in it; 
after he has gathered round him a few adherents his 
career is suddenly brought to a brutal end. But his 
work does not perish with him; it is carried on by his 
disciples. He is himself soon found to be the center of 
a really new religion, which spreads through the Greco- 
Eoman world and, at the same time, severs itself from 
Judaism. By degrees this religion secures a better stand- 
ing ; it makes many converts, and finally proves disquiet- 
ing to the Eoman state, which persecutes it, but does not 
succeed in arresting its progress; it organizes and 
becomes a church which grows ever stronger; in Con- 
stan tine's time it is tolerated by the emperor, then gains 
him to its side, and leads him to attack paganism. At 
the end of the fourth century it reigns, at least officially, 
throughout the Roman Empire. Since that time, the 
Christian faith has conquered Europe and spread 
throughout the world. And, at the first glance, these 
present themselves as such surprising results, compared 
with the modest proportions which Jesus seemed to have 
given to his work, that Christians feel that they can 


account for them only by representing them as the ful- 
filment of God's eternal plan for the salvation of men. 
Since Jesus, according to orthodox theology, is God, it 
must be believed that he willed this expansion, and that 
in spite of appearances, during his terrestrial existence, 
he organized implicitly a perfect religion, and that the 
entire Christian life is but the necessary development of 
the principles he laid down. In this way the establishing 
and evolution of Christianity throughout the ages are due 
entirely to his will, and, in the realm of things visible, 
setting aside the mystery of the Redemption, it was to 
found a creed of catholicity that he became incarnate, 
suffered, and died. 

Do not let us dwell upon the reservations which a dis- 
interested observer of the facts would not fail to formu- 
late at once, namely, that the waverings, doublings, and 
changes more or less profound, the disputes, divisions 
and schisms which plentifully bestrew the history of the 
Christian Church, are scarcely reconcilable with the sup- 
position of a distinctly defined plan, formed in the begin- 
ning by the Founder, and since followed out, point by 
point. But the sketch we have just given of the birth, 
growth and triumph of Christianity has taken account of 
the facts according to appearances only ; it has not tried 
to penetrate their inmost recesses and actually explain 
them to us; it has only demonstrated their course and 
the connection between them, chronologically rather than 
logically. Apropos of these events, or among them, 
numerous questions of capital importance arise; these 
concern the foundation and the "essence" of Christian- 
ity, the meaning and the general disposition of the 
Christian evolution. It is questions of this nature which 
form the true material of the ancient history of the 
Church. Her medieval and her modern history, inti- 
mately bound up with general history, are much clearer 
to our vision than this time of her beginnings, in which 
so much uncertainty and doubt crowd to the surface. 





Christianity, therefore, was born of a Jewish move- 
ment. As it appears first of all, it was a development 
solely of interest to the religious life of Israel, thoroughly 
characteristic of the Palestinian milieu and rightly incon- 
ceivable outside the Jewish world. Although its growth 
was destined in the course of time to be hastened on and 
influenced by many different factors, its beginnings are 
due to the initiative of a Galilean, Jesus the Nazarene — 
that is, not the man of Nazareth apparently, but the nazir, 
the holy man of God. 1 

To me it seems impossible to call his existence in ques- 
tion, as even in these days some endeavor to do. 2 But 
directly we have affirmed it, we find ourselves involved, 
to tell the truth, in doubt and uncertainty. To such an 
extent is this so, that one of the main results of the 
research to which in the last few years the primitive 
documents have been subjected is that the impossibility 
has been demonstrated of depicting the life of Jesus 
with any real certainty. All the books which claim to 
give us that history must be regarded as more or less 
arbitrary and subjective. It is easy to give the reasons 
for this conclusion. The men who had listened to the 
words of the Christ and believed them after they had 
given way to despair at his Passion and begun to pro- 
claim his resurrection, did not feel any necessity for 
setting down in writing their recollections and their 
impressions. They took no thought for the instruction 

1 TIpon this question of Nazareth, see Ch. Guignebert, La vie cacMe 
de Jesus (Paris, 1921), pp. 59 et seq. 

2 Cf. Ch. Guignebert, Le probleme de J6sus (Paris. 1914) ; J. Case, 
The Historicity of Jesus (Chicago, 1912) ; M. Goguel, J6sus de Nazareth, 
muthe ou histoire? (Paris, 1925). 


22 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

of posterity because they felt sure it would never come 
into being. At any moment the world of injustice and 
error, the world of the flesh, would come to an end; the 
human race would cease to exist, and the conquering 
Messiah would shine in glory in the clouds of heaven. 

On the other hand, it was scarcely possible for their 
faith not to overmaster their recollections and distort 
them. They were sustained by the conviction that Jesus 
the Nazarene was indeed the Messiah promised to Israel 
and that he was enthroned on high on the right hand of 
God, awaiting the hour of his triumph. This conviction 
readily induced them to endow an apparently ordinary 
life, a very restricted success and a degrading death with 
profound meaning. It led them to seek instruction and 
portentous signs in its most minute incidents; to apply 
to their Master all the Scriptural passages thought to 
relate to the Blessed of Jahveh ; and as a consequence to 
find in his life the fulfilment of all these prophecies. 
Thus their pious imagination mixed with the facts com- 
mentaries and additions imposed upon them, by this 
same conviction, as necessary and absolutely true, so to 
speak, since they were but fitting Jesus out with the 
nature and function of the Messiah. In the simplicity 
of their hearts, they very quickly became unable to dis- 
tinguish these addenda from the data vouched for by 
their memories ; at any rate, they are confounded in the 
teaching done by them, and their disciples were literally 
incapable of separating them again. Above all, the 
ecstasy of their faith left them powerless to suspend 
judgment in face of suggested special revelations and 
visions. That which any one of them learned by a direct 
communication from the Holy Ghost showed a power to 
impose itself upon him and the others with an imperative 
certitude which even the most direct of "historical" 
recollections did not surpass, even if they equaled it. 
"What St. Paul, for instance, had learnt "in the spirit" 
from the Lord Jesus seemed to him more direct and much 
more certain than that which the Apostles Peter and 
James could tell him. 


It was, therefore, from elements that were hetero- 
geneous and very unequal in value that the tradition 
(paradosis) was fashioned which the believers in the 
first generation after Christ accepted as the authentic 
history of the Master. It was only after those belonging 
to the first generation were in their graves that this dis- 
appearance of the direct witnesses of Jesus, one after 
another, gave rise to doubts as to the imminence of the 
expected coming of the Lord. Then it was that the more 
prudent Christians deemed it expedient to commit to 
writing the recollections which oral tradition was 
reputed to have preserved. 8 

First to be formed, probably, were little books of 
memoranda in which each writer collected what he 
deemed specially interesting: connected sayings attrib- 
uted to the Master ; accounts of episodes in his life which 
were characteristic or edifying; descriptions of the 
" signs," that is, the miracles which he had performed to 
confound the incredulous. Nobody troubled about what 
we term historical exactitude, which presumes scruples 
unknown or indifferent to men of an ardent faith, who 
are therefore as devoid as possible of a critical spirit; 
on the other hand, each one aimed at establishing the 
soundness of the Christian hopes, at convincing the 
doubters and edifying the believers. 

These little books constituted the ancient sources of 
our Gospels. The collection of the Logia or Sayings of 
the Lord Jesus, attributed to Matthew, and the narrative 
recital attributed to Mark which were, it appears, the 
chief of them, could at most only contain the scattered 
and already very mixed elements of a life of Jesus, such 
as it would be imagined to have been toward the close 
of the Apostolic generation. The successive writers of 
our Gospels, in the final third of the first century at 

8 Upon all that concerns synoptic tradition and the constitution of the 
Gospels, see the bibliography in G. B. Smith, A Guide, etc., p. 199 et seq.; 
and M. Goguel, Introduction au Nowveav, Testament, Vol. I, Les 
Eranpiles synoptiques (Paris, 1923), Vol. II, he Quatrieme Evangile 
(1924). An English translation of the New Testament specially to be 
recommended is that of J. Moffatt, The New Testament (New York, 

24 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

earliest, evidently sought to make their story a coherent 
one. But, besides the fact that it would doubtless have 
been impossible to separate the real facts from the com- 
ments which modified them, to distinguish between what 
had happened and what faith imagined to have happened 
"that the Scriptures might be fulfilled,' ' between that 
which they remembered and that which the Spirit had 
suggested to them, they had no desire to carry out such 
a sifting. Moreover, they found themselves dealing with 
material which it was very difficult to utilize. The col- 
lection of sayings preceding their own took no account 
of the circumstances in which the Lord had uttered them ; 
the grouping in the various memoranda which is every- 
where artificial, would probably be dissimilar. It was the 
same with accounts in them of events, properly so called, 
for these related episodes only and with considerable 
variance between one writer and another. They found it 
necessary to pick and choose, and then combine into a 
connected narrative fragments which were fairly 

We have only to peruse the three synoptic Gospels to 
be convinced that their authors have arrived at per- 
ceptibly different combinations of the same facts and of 
discourses which are identical or similar. We must con- 
clude, therefore, that they have not been actuated by 
objective truth. They have not taken into account a 
chronological order of events sufficiently stable to impose 
itself upon them all, but on the contrary each one has 
followed a scheme of his own in the arrangement of his 
work. It is just as plain that not one of them had at his 
command a complete sequence of facts sufficiently con- 
densed to permit him to give a satisfactory picture of 
the entire life of Christ. Not one of them has done any- 
thing but tie and fasten together, more or less skilfully, 
scraps of tradition which form an apparent ensemble but 
do not make a whole. In the development of the Gospel 
narrative immense gaps are either perceptible or to be 
divined, even in that of Mark, who is, however, prudent 


enough to say nothing about the birth or childhood of 

Now faith does not want to remain in ignorance, and 
it always learns what it needs to know; pious imagination 
is ever at its service. This is why the first, third and 
fourth Gospels give us accounts which are truly dis- 
similar, even contradictory, but all wonderful and very 
instructive respecting the period upon which the second is 
silent. Each fills up the gaps in its own way. The 
only thing is that these have not much in common, 
it is very evident, with history. It even appears prob- 
able that the recollections relating to the Passion had 
already been somewhat similarly impaired before the 
editing of our Gospels. Apparently they had been influ- 
enced by various legends known throughout the East and 
thus early had been interpreted in such a way as to give 
them a new complexion on many important points. And 
on the other hand, why not bring them into line with the 
initiative of the Master, add and incorporate in his tradi- 
tional teaching all that the living faith of his disciples 
(obliged, so to speak, by his death and resurrection to see 
past, present and future only in the Messianic perspec- 
tive) could fruitfully bring forth? Why not, for instance, 
attribute to the Master the order to baptize and the 
institution of the Eucharist, since baptism constitutes the 
seal of the faith even from Apostolic times, and the 
Eucharist the visible bond of brotherhood one with 
another, as well as that of Christ with them all, according 
to the interpretation of St. Paul? 

Thus we can no longer see clearly the figure of the 
historical Jesus ; no longer have we the means of depict- 
ing his life to ourselves correctly. Of the historical Jesus 
we may say that something may still be divined beneath 
diverse features of evangelical tradition, and of a correct 
biography we may hope to retain some episodes. Upon 
the one as on the other, and indeed upon all that relates 
to that which Jesus is reputed to have taught, it is 
expedient to affirm nothing save with the utmost caution. 

26 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

Nevertheless, we know that upon a certain day this 
same Jesus left his family and began to traverse Galilee 
and to preach. Wherefore f Was it only because he felt the 
need of doing it in response to a vocation spontaneously 
created in him, though it is inexplicable to us, which urged 
him irresistibly onward? Undoubtedly, to some extent; 
but unless we accept the postulate of divine inspiration, 
which history cannot take into consideration because it 
is beyond verification and does away with all discussion, 
a vocation of such a nature cannot be understood save as 
the result of the influences of a milieu. The originality 
of an inspired person depends wholly upon the form he 
gives to the working over and assembling of the influ- 
ences he has undergone which have unconsciously been 
performed in him. The problem of the rise of Jesus, 
therefore, leads us back historically to the intellectual 
milieu whence he sprang. 


This milieu is not yet thoroughly familiar to us, but 
we are beginning to know it. We note that it presents 
itself under two aspects, or rather, that it is twofold. 
Christ was born a Jew; he grew up in Jewish circles 
from which, as far as we can judge, he derived the ele- 
ments of his intellectual and religious training exclu- 
sively. Israel, it must be remembered, had not been able 
to isolate itself completely from the Syro-Chaldean 
peoples among whom it lived, or not enough so to suc- 
ceed in escaping the stamp of their influence entirely. It 
had also retained some traces of its prolonged contact 
(a) with the conquering Greeks who had come from the 
kingdom of the Ptolemies and from the Seleucid kingdom 
of Syria, and (b) with its own sons who were established 
on Greek soil whom the great feasts brought each year, 
in varying numbers, to Jerusalem. In the two or three 
centuries, therefore, which precede the Christian era, it 
had domesticated more than one foreign idea and made 
it its own. 


In the second place, be it noted that all around the 
Jewish world of Palestine was a pagan milieu. If it did 
not directly influence Jesus, it was to attract and influence 
his disciples almost immediately after his death. Bor- 
dering on Palestine to the north, west and southwest it 
was a Syrian and Phenician milieu which we divine more 
than clearly see, whence came mingled beliefs, forms of 
worship, superstitions and the prejudices, or perhaps 
merely mementoes, of various religions past and present. 
To the east it was a Mesopotamian milieu, in which the 
religious influences of India and Persia mingled on 
Babylonian soil. This region was the parent of many 
ancient myths current throughout the Semitic world, and 
also of forms of speculative thought in which metaphysics 
and astrology combined to offer an explanation of the 
universe and of human destiny. To the south it was an 
Egyptian milieu, where ancient national cults were 
revamped, expanded and, as it were, universalized under 
the fertilizing influence of Greek thought. Finally, to the 
north there was a Hellenistic milieu (in that section 
which we know as Asia Minor), a still more complicated 
one, but also more richly stored because it formed a 
kind of crossroad of religions. Besides the local cults, 
many of which were still active and powerful, the myths 
of the Olympian religion, and the theories and dogmas, 
more or less popularized, of the Greek philosophers, 
many other "contaminating influences" flowed in from 
all the milieus just mentioned, including even the Jewish. 

Here was, so to speak, a vast and partly amorphous 
conglomerate of religious material which was not only 
already being organized into syncretistic combinations, 
more or less unusual, but lent itself indefinitely to all 
kinds of exploitation. For the future of Christianity, 
therefore, it constituted an almost inexhaustible reserve. 
But, I must repeat, Christ himself was, to all appear- 
ances, exclusively molded in the Jewish milieu, — for there 
is no vestige of proof for the theory sometimes advanced, 
of direct formative influence by Buddhism or Hellenism 
over him — and it was through the Jews, as intermedi- 

28 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

aries, that the Christian religion first spread beyond 
Palestine. Let lis then cast a glance upon that Jewish 
world before we try to take into account the religious 
aspect of the other terrains to which we shall find the 
Christian doctrine spreading. 

The Jewish milieu in itself was an extremely complex 
assemblage of influences at the time of Herod the Great 
(who died four years before the birth of Christ). 
Beneath an apparent uniformity of race, customs and 
religion, the population of Judea in reality formed two 
peoples of somewhat differing mentality and dissimilar 
religious tendencies.* 

The remote cause of this condition of things must be 
sought very far back. "When the king of Babylon had 
deemed it wise to transport the Jews whom he had van- 
quished to the banks of the Euphrates, super flumina 
Babylonis, he had taken account only of the families of 
some importance. The country folk, the smaller fry, had 
remained at home and continued no doubt to practice the 
ancient religion of Israel in pious fashion, trustful of 
Jahveh, but at any rate not so strict that they were unable 
to compromise with the deities around them and their 
adherents. Since the ancient Jahvehism was essentially 
a man's religion, these worthy Jewish peasants did not 
shun the making of mixed marriages, which mingled the 
blood of foreign women with that of the elect people. 
On the other hand, the exiles, or those at least whom 
despair did not drive into the idolatry of their con- 
querors, rapidly developed. They found themselves 
forced to reconsider the Covenant concluded between 
Jahveh and his people in an endeavor to account for 
their present misfortunes, to imagine a more consoling 
future, and to use all the means at their command of 
avoiding the repetition of such calamities. And they 
convinced themselves that the ills under which Israel was 

* The essential work here is Schiirer's, Oesrhichte des jiidischcn 
Yolkes im Zeitaltcr Jesu Christi (Leipzig. 1901-1009). Shailer Mathew's 
A History of New Testament Times in Palestine (New York, Loudon, 
1902), may also be consulted with advantage. Cf. G. B. Smith's A 
Guide, p. 179. 


suffering arose out of its faithlessness to the Covenant. 
There was only one way for them to appease an offended 
God, and that was to put themselves under a regimen of 
the utmost rigor in their devotional observances. This 
meant in practice for them to set up and establish a very 
strict ritual which should render idolatry an impossi- 
bility. The composition of this ritual, the establishment 
of this strict legalism, strengthened by a new edition of 
the Law in conformity to fresh needs, were the work of 
prophets of the Exile, Ezekiel in particular. When 
through the favor of Cyrus consent was given in 538 
b.c. that these exiles might return to their country, they 
did not all profit by the permission, but those who did 
brought with them into Judea the new Law and the new 
spirit and — an essential detail — they remained in close 
relations with their brethren in Babylon, who helped 
them, by their influence with the king of Persia, and 
their money and moral support, to impose these imported 
rules upon the resident population. The reorganizers of 
the Temple and its worship and the implacable foes of 
mixed marriages and concessions to foreigners were the 
Jews Esdras and Nehemiah, envoys from Babylon. They 
were already scribes, that is, men who had studied the 
Law. They expounded the new edition and began to 
institute, side by side with it, a complete jurisprudence 
to settle those matters of conscience which could not fail 
to multiply the moment that absolute legal exactitude of 
compliance was set down, as the first requirement of 
real piety. 

The period which extends from the return from exile 
to the birth of Jesus thus witnessed, in the first place, 
the growth of a vast priesthood, a sacerdotal caste, which 
hovered around the Temple without a rival and insured 
the regularity of its service, but neither specially studied 
nor taught the Law. From a natural propensity, it was 
inclined to attach importance to rites and formulas only. 
In the second place, the period was marked by the rise 
of the scribes, or doctors of the Law, between whom 
there was the keenest rivalry in ingenious probings into 

30 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

all the recesses of the Sacred Writings. They comment, 
wrangle, and very often, despite their sincere and deep 
personal piety, end in stifling the free and spontaneous 
religion of the heart beneath the accumulation of their 
overscrupulous formalism. Certain among them, for 
instance, were concerned to know whether an egg laid 
upon the Sabbath could be considered clean, or if clean 
water, falling into an unclean vessel, was not thereby 
rendered unclean right from its very source. 

Some of them, indeed, unconsciously influenced by 
Greek speculation concerning God, the world and man, 
enlarge and sublimate the ancient idea of Jahveh, and 
he becomes the God per se, not to be defined and not even 
to be named. Their tendency is to adopt a dualistic cos- 
mology and anthropology, in which two contrary ele- 
ments, matter and spirit, body and soul, are opposed. 
And in this way, quite counter to the influence of the 
finally exaggerated legalism, the nationalistic religion of 
Israel begins to be universalized and really to be 
humanized. This work is naturally carried further and 
accomplished more speedily in the Jewish colonies on 
pagan soil, where we shall find it later on, but from the 
beginning of the Christian era it had already been going 
on for some time in Palestine itself, and had there yielded 
appreciable results. 

The people obey the priests because they are its 
national leaders: the High Priest alone is qualified to 
represent Israel to the Persian or Greek overlord. Judea 
thus becomes a theocratic state, and even during the 
Asmonean epoch, 5 although it believes itself independent, 
it remains theocratic, since the king is at the same time 
High Priest. On the other hand, this same people 
admires the learned scribes given to many scruples. In 
reality, however, neither the sceptical ritualism of the 
priests nor the haughty pedantry of the scribes touches 
the nation profoundly or satisfies its piety. Little by 

B That is, in the time of the Maccabees, Judas, Jonathan, Simon ; 
John Hyrcanus, Aristobulus and Alexander Jannaeus, between 165 
and 70 b. c, for from the death of Jannaeus to the coming: of Herod 
the Arab, in 40 b. c, there was a period of anarchy and decadence. 


little it submits to the urge of rigorism. It debars 
strangers as far as it can and even is incensed at seeing 
its leaders at times becoming excessively "Grecianized." 
But it continues to love Jahveh with its whole heart, and 
in its days of tribulation to pray with a fervor inspired 
by the piety of former days and not imprisoned within 
the newer forms. In other words, its religion lives and 
develops. It takes up several ideas which are not prop- 
erly Jewish but have come from the East — conceptions 
of the part played by angels and demons and the idea of 
a future life and of a last judgment. Then also, even the 
misfortunes of their times — for the Jews suffered much 
at the hands of the Egyptians, Syrians, Romans and from 
troubles of their own making during the four centuries 
which preceded the coming of Christ — served their 
religion. From them it reaps more complete domination 
for an ancient hope: it awaits, it calls at the top of its 
throat, for the Messiah, who is to restore to Israel more 
than its splendor of the time of David. These preoccu- 
pations of the popular faith are at last accepted by the 
scribes themselves; they expound, and to some extent, 
consecrate them. And the more that events seem to 
prove them in the wrong, the harder the yoke of the 
foreigner becomes, the more does this idea entrench itself 
within the minds of the plain people, the larger the place 
it occupies in their convictions. 

We must not forget that at this time the Jews, as well 
as many others in the world, have not the least idea of 
what we call "natural laws," of the necessary and invari- 
able connection between causes and effects. Convinced 
that with God all things are possible, they perceive no 
boundary line between fact and miracle. Indeed, they 
live altogether on the plane of the marvelous, for any- 
thing that is a "surprise" to them appears for that 
reason the direct act of God or of the Devil. This 
explains why they are easily persuaded that the amazing 
revolution which they hope for will be unfailingly accom- 
plished as soon as Jahveh wills it, and that their restless 
anticipations await its announcement with ever increas- 

32 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

ing nervous tension. This Messianic hope, from which 
Israel expected signal amends for its misfortunes and 
oblivion for its humiliations, was on the contrary destined 
to lead it into most disastrous adventures, upon which it 
would plunge full tilt, because it was convinced that thus 
the Great Day would dawn and help from heaven arrive, 
if only they helped themselves. The fearful rebellions of 
the first and second centuries a. d. which decimated the 
Jews and consummated the ruin of their nation all pro- 
ceeded from the persuasion that the time was fulfilled, 
and that the promise formerly proclaimed by the 
prophets was at length to be realized. 

Now, in Galilee, in that northern part of Palestine 
where Jesus was born, the majority of the people were 
simple folk. The district had only been induced to par- 
ticipate in the new Jewish life in the time of the Macca- 
bees ; it had never viewed the sacerdotal hierarchy save 
from afar. If the scribes did not avoid it altogether, 
they did not swarm there as they did in Jerusalem or in 
Judea, properly so called, and they had not acquired the 
reputation and influence there which were the lot of the 
masters of the Judean schools. It was commonly said 
that the Galileans were unmanageable, doubtless because 
in the early times of the Koman domination some very 
resolute nationalistic gangs had taken refuge in their 
mountains. Fun was made, too, of them on account of 
their provincial accent. As a matter of fact, their piety 
retained, it seems, a spontaneity, ardor and profundity 
which testified to an intensely fervent religious life which 
was missing in the scrupulosity of Judean Pharisaism. 

Jesus, therefore, was born and grew up in a district in 
which the majority of minds were preoccupied with reli- 
gious interests. He sprang from a sphere in which the 
habit of life was one of simple hope and of anxious expec- 
tation of a certain miraculous event, procurable by the 
Jews, through their piety alone, which would render them 
masters of the world. But this people is governed by 
priests who do not share this hope and are mistrustful 
of the difficulties it may create for them with their 


foreign political masters. It is to some extent hemmed 
in by teachers of the stamp that can say that no ignorant 
person could be pious, and who feel scarcely any sym- 
pathy for a popular movement. 


We have given, therefore, a profoundly pious man of 
the people whose mentality has not been withered in any 
way by the doctrine of the scribes, but from earliest 
childhood has been imbued with the prevailing ideas of 
his milieu, one who has acquired no intellectual or reli- 
gious or moral life save through them. If he is also 
endowed with that singularly marvelous faculty of 
mustering within himself thoughts which are floating in 
the air he breathes and re-creating them, as it were, by 
his meditation upon them (and that must be the case 
with all who are inspired), it is easy to understand how 
he should come to translate his convictions into actions. 
An inspired Galilean of that epoch could not fail to 
announce in a more or less personal and original way 
the imminent realization of the hopes of the age. And 
such appears to have been, in fact, the origin of the 
"rise" of Jesus. 9 

Documents which would enable us to explore the mate- 
rial of details of his intellectual development and grasp 
the precise determining causes of the path taken by his 
initiative are lacking. It is not necessary, however, to 
assume that there was anything complicated about either. 
All our Gospels note an ill-defined but real relation 
between the opening of his public life and the preaching 
of another inspired layman who proclaimed the necessity 
for repentance in view of the near approach of the prom- 
ised era. It may be that Jesus had known John the 

6 Renan's Vie de J6sus is negligible from the scientific point of view. 
Loisy, Jesus et la tradition euangeliqwe (Paris, 1910) and Bousset, 
Kyrios Christos (Gottingen, 1913), Chaps, i and ii may be read, as well 
as Barth, Die Hauptprobleme des Lebens Jesu (Gutersloh, 1911) and 
O. Schmiedel. Die Hauptprobleme der Leben-Jesu-Forschung (Tubingen, 
1906). Cf. G. B. Smith's A Guide, pp. 268 et seq., which gives a critical 

34 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

Baptist and had been to hear him, and that through his 
example the vocation slowly and mysteriously preparing 
in the depths of his consciousness was irresistibly 
imposed upon his will. It may be that at the news of the 
imprisonment of John by Herod Antipas Jesus began to 
preach, in order that the Kingdom should not lack a 
herald. After all, he only renewed the prophetic tradi- 
tion of Israel which had been suspended since the return 
from exile, but which many nebim before him, the Baptist 
among them, had already sought to restore. His initia- 
tive, however original its form may appear at first sight, 
was not in itself exceptional or unexpected. 

Whether he knew from the very beginning what he 
really wanted, or even what he represented, may ' be 
doubted. Proceeding on different lines from the Baptist, 
for he had entirely renounced the ascetic life and the 
menacing language of his predecessor, Jesus developed 
the same main themes: The Kingdom is at hand, that 
great transformation which shall rid the world of 
injustice and evil; repent, if you would have a place 
among the elect. Why did he say this? He said it 
because he was urged thereto by a secret force, because 
he felt the Lord within him, as had all the inspired 
Jewish prophets. And what did he mean by it? How 
did he picture the Kingdom and its coming, in his own 
mind? We do not know; for our texts date from a time 
when the delay in the coming of the Kingdom had already 
modified the portrait of it in the minds of Christians. 
He doubtless imagined it in conformity with what was 
said about it around himself as the advent of material- 
ized joy for Israel and a dazzling manifestation of the 
benediction of Jahveh, the form of which popular 
imagination had never really determined exactly and 
which he himself, possibly, did not strictly define. There 
is nothing to assure us that in the beginning he did not 
make allusions to Messianic upheavals of the warfare 
which, according to majority opinion, the Messiah was to 
bring upon the world. Our Gospels carry some traces of 
this frame of mind, but it is natural that these features 


should have gradually disappeared and little be left of 
them in writings designed to prove that in him, so mild 
and peace-loving, would be found he ''who should come." 

Did he believe himself to be the Messiah? It has been 
doubted; it is still doubted, and with considerable show 
of reason: never did he openly apply the title " Messiah' ' 
(in Greek, Christos) to himself. Close study of the pass- 
ages in our Gospels in which the word appears does not 
allow us to refer a single case to either of the two main 
earliest sources: the collected sayings or Logia of the 
Lord, and the first Gospel, called Mark's. 7 And those 
which are apparently most convincing are the very ones 
which stand up the poorest under criticism: the famous 
confession of Messiahship before Caiphas the High 
Priest (Mk. xiv. 61), for instance, of which no guarantee 
of its wording exists nor does it appear to correspond 
with any context in historical reality. But at the time 
when the Gospel texts which we have at our command 
received their final form, it was inevitable, since faith in 
the Messiahship of Jesus had become the very foundation 
of Christianity, it should be affirmed in them in a conspic- 
uous manner and made to appear authenticated by the 
Master in person. At any rate, "the words of the 
Gospel" and "the words of Jesus" are still two distinct 
and separate authorities for exegetists, and they come to 
a very certain exegetical conclusion that Jesus did not 
proclaim his Messiahship. 

He never called himself ' ' Son of God, ' ' an expression, 
moreover, which the judgment of a Jew would declare 
shocking nonsense as well as actual blasphemy. Not a 
single Gospel passage permits us to attribute it to Jesus 
with any certainty. It belongs rather to the language of 

7 In Mk. ix. 41 we certainly read : "For whosoever shall give you a 
cup of water to drink because ye are Christ's" (eke Xptaxou eate), but 
the authenticity of the characteristic words is renounced even by 
conservative exegists like Father Lagrange or H. Monnier, because the 
use of Christos without the article pertains to the language of St. Paul 
and not to that of the Synoptics, and because Matt. x. 42, the parallel 
passage with this, reads : "Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of 
these little ones a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple. . ." 
(els 8vo[jLa txaOijTou) a rendering that is much more likely to be the 
older one. 

36 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

Hellenized Christians, such as St. Paul and the author 
of the fourth Gospel, by whom it would be regarded as 
profound sense and abundantly intelligible. 8 

He did not assume the title, ' ' Son of David, ' ' which was 
well understood throughout Israel as essentially Mes- 
sianic ; he did not even make use of the designation which 
our Gospels seem to regard as characteristic of his per- 
sonality and his mission, that of "Son of Man," or at 
any rate he did not employ it in the Messianic sense. 
This meaning for it was unknown to the Jews, for no 
reference from the noteworthy passage in the Book of 
Daniel (vii. 13-14), "I saw in the night visions, and 
behold there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto 
a son of man. . ." had yet been drawn by the rabbis to the 
appearance of the Messiah. Not till long after this, was it 
so referred to in the synagogue, and then it was due to the 
influence of the similar use made of it by the Christians. 
After a time believers understood so imperfectly the 
Aramaic language as to imagine a "son of man" (bar 
nascha) which means simply "a man," as found in the 
Logia or Sayings of the Lord, contained some mysterious 
meaning. They linked it with the use made of it by 
Daniel, which they did not understand either, and in 
both passages declared it to be a specially Christian 
equivalent for "Messiah." That this is an error cannot 
be doubted after examination of the text ; and, in nearly 
all the passages of our Synoptics in which the expression 
occurs, it has been inserted by a redactor. In five or six 
passages only 9 is there a likelihood of its resting upon 
an authentic saying of Jesus, incorrectly translated, and 
even there it must be understood as if it read "a man." 

8 A Jew might call himself the "Servant of Jahveh," but not his 
"Son," and I think it probable that Jesus did, in fact, consider and 
represent himself as the Servant of God, according to the Psalmist. 

The Hebrew word Ebed, which means "servant," is often translated 
in the Greek by the word naig, which means both "a servant" and 
"a child." The verbal transition from jtatq, "child," to ulog, "son," 
was accordingly very simple, but the idea of "Son of God" is derived 
from the Hellenistic world. 

9 Matt. viii. 20 (Luke ix. 50) ; Matt. xi. 19 (Luke vii. 34) ; Matt. xii. 
32 (Luke xii. 10) ; Matt. ix. 6 (Mark ii, 10; Luke v. 24) ; Matt. xii. 8 
(Mk. ii. 2S; Luke vi. 3). 


For instance: "The foxes have holes . . . man has not 
where to lay his head"; or again: "And whosoever shall 
speak a word against the man it shall be forgiven him, 
but whosoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it 
shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world nor in 
that which is to come." 

It is therefore an assured fact that primitive tradition 
had never openly declared that Jesus had given out that 
he was the Messiah, and we gain an impression of the 
same kind from that which is called the "Messianic 
secret," that is, the urgent (almost, according to Mark, 
menacing) command said to have been given on more 
than one occasion by the Master to his disciples, enjoin- 
ing them to reveal nought of what they may divine, or 
learn, or catch a glimpse of, respecting his real status. 
"What interest, therefore, would he have in disguising his 
identity and preserving silence about his mission, at the 
very moment when sense and meaning could only be 
made out of the contents of his preaching by proclaiming 
these very things? On the other hand, it is a problem 
bristling with difficulties set the historian to show the 
necessity of admitting that a Galilean peasant had so 
transformed the ideal hero upon whom the hopes of his 
nation were fixed as to have changed into a humble and 
resigned martyr the victorious king who was to become 
the Messiah. Certain commentators have tried to offset 
these contradictory difficulties by various suggestions 
which aim at proving that, if Jesus did not openly avow 
himself the Messiah, he believed that he was ; he allowed 
his disciples to believe it; he perished because he had 
allowed Pilate to believe it. Had it been otherwise, they 
say, the Apostles would never have been able to conceive 
that the Crucified should have risen from the dead. None 
of these reasons is really very convincing. We may 
continue to find it surprising that Jesus did not explain 
himself more clearly upon this essential point. We may 
interpret the half avowals and the insinuations which the 
passages imply as devices of redactors which authentic 
tradition had renounced. We may infer that the Roman 

38 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

procurator had no need of any Messianic avowal to get 
rid of a Jewish agitator who was preaching the near 
advent of the Kingdom, which meant the imminent end 
of the Eoman domination as a matter of course. Or 
lastly, we may believe that the love of the Apostles for 
their Master and the confidence they had in him sufficed 
to induce visions which implanted in them the absolute 
certainty of his resurrection and that the conviction that 
he had been "made Christ" by the will of God, as St. 
Peter is reputed to have said (Acts, ii. 36) grew out of 
the need of accounting for the miracle of the resurrection. 
In short, there are fairly solid reasons for concluding 
that Jesus simply regarded himself and behaved as a 
prophet, who felt himself urged by the Spirit of Jahveh 
to proclaim the speedy realization of the great hope of 
Israel and the necessity of preparing for it. However, 
even in this case we may ask ourselves if he was not 
persuaded that a choice place was reserved for him in the 
future Kingdom, a status, therefore, which could scarcely 
fail to get confounded with the post of the Messiah itself. 
Many well-known exegetists, such as Loisy, 10 answer this 
question in the affirmative. But, if it is difficult to combat 
their reasons with assurance, it is equally so, in my 
opinion, to endorse them unreservedly. On this point, as 
on so many others, certitude of the truth escapes us. 

10 A. Loisy, Les Evangiles synoptiques, Vol. I, pp. 203-253. 



The Gospel passages which are available, therefore, 
leave us in a state of uncertainty as to what Jesus him- 
self thought about the guiding principle of his mission, 
the nature of his own personality and the scope of his 
own part. On the other hand, they make it clear that 
he was unsuccessful and that his Palestinian compatriots 
did not believe him in regard to his mission nor did 
they conform to the moral appeals made by him. During 
the time — a very brief one moreover — that he spent 
among them, 1 they looked upon his comings and goings 
with curiosity or with indifference, but no attempt to fol- 
low him took place. At the most, perhaps, he won over 
a few hundreds of simple Galileans. Although the 
Gospels portray crowds fascinated by his discourses 
thronging around him, that does not cause us to forget 
what they tell us elsewhere, with much more truth, of 
the hard hearts of the Jews. Indeed, Jesus himself 
seems to have despaired of softening them. The reasons 
for his failure are self-evident. 

To the populace he did not speak in the terms they 
had anticipated. He preached self-examination, love of 
one's neighbor, humbleness of heart and a son's faith 
in God to people who were expecting an appeal to arms 
and the announcement of the final struggle preceding an 
everlasting triumph. He did not say to them: "Arise! 
the Messiah of Jahveh is in your midst," but: "Prepare 
yourselves by repentance to make a good showing in 
the Judgment which is at hand." He did not ask them 

1 Jesus' public ministry must not be calculated according to the data 
of the fourth gospel, which would allow us to attribute to it a duration 
of about three years. It actually lasted but a few months, possibly a 
few weeks only ; upon this point we cannot be certain. 


40 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

to act, but merely to mark time in a specified moral and 
religious attitude, which changed expectation into con- 
straint. Though a son of Israel, he probably displayed 
a comparatively mild exclusiveness only. The heartfelt 
piety and the confiding faith of the Roman centurion or 
the woman of Canaan seemed to him to be worth as much 
as pure Jewish descent. Or rather, a heathen who 
believed through his words was considered by him as far 
superior to a well-born Jew who was an unbeliever. He 
said a good deal about justice, peace, devotion to the 
Father, and also spoke of resignation and patience. But 
of rebellion and of the triumph of the chosen people over 
other nations he never said a word. And although all 
this constitutes for us his originality and his charm, it 
could in no way please the ardent Messianists of 

To the Scribes he appeared to be an ignorant pre- 
tender, who naively assumed that good sense could take 
the place of learning and the heart act as a substitute 
for the reason. He spoke "with authority " although 
he had not frequented the schools, because he felt within 
himself the inspiration of the Father. Their spirit was 
a trial to him; the spontaneity characteristic of his reli- 
gion felt itself under constraint face to face with the 
formalism of theirs, and this antipathy could not fail 
to be mutual. Surely we ought not to forget that our 
Gospels reflect the ideas and prepossessions of a time 
when Jewish legalism was no longer considered binding 
by Christians. They even regarded it as their chief 
foe, and this would consequently incline them to attribute 
to the Master the same aversion which they themselves 
felt toward it. Nevertheless, from the numerous pass- 
ages in which Christ takes the scribes to task, and, 
conversely, from those in which they seek to entrap 
him by insidious questions, it is scarcely possible not 
to obtain a distinct impression that a dormant conflict 
existed between them and him. According to all the 
evidence, he respected the Law and paid attention to 
its demands, but he did not pay them exclusive atten- 


tion, and he showed himself disposed to give his own 
pious inspirations precedence over rabbinical injunc- 

And as for the priests of Jerusalem and the Saddu- 
cean aristocracy, to them he seemed to be the most dan- 
gerous and embarrassing of agitators. He was danger- 
ous, because in the end he might incite the people to 
one of those violent and irrational revolts which the 
Roman authorities were always rigorously repressing. 
The commotions connected with it would also disturb 
the peace of the Temple hierarchy. He was embarrassing, 
because he went so far as inconsiderately to parade 
before the populace comparisons and expostulations 
which were definitely to the disadvantage of the priest- 

Possibly the people were more inclined to hesitate 
than to pass adverse judgment upon the nabi (prophet). 
It was said that Jesus multiplied "signs," i.e., miracles, 
like healing the sick and those possessed by devils ; they 
may have already attributed to him — a thing common 
enough in that country in those days — the raising to life 
of a few dead persons. His enemies ascribed all these 
marvels to the influence of Beelzebub, i.e., the devil. 
Plain folks did not blindly believe their words, but they 
remained irresolute and perplexed. At any rate, if Jesus 
did not excite their enthusiasm, he did nothing to alter 
their kindly feeling. On the other hand, both scribes 
and priests detested him directly they knew him, and 
he committed the imprudence of letting himself fall into 
their hands. 

We do not clearly perceive what it was that decided 
him to go to Jerusalem. It is probable that it was some- 
thing more than the desire to celebrate the Passover in 
the Holy City. The Evangelists wrote at a time in which 
all the " mystery" of the life of Jesus centered in a 
death accepted by him for the redemption and regenera- 
tion of humanity. They assume that their Lord for some 
time preceding had explained the necessity for his 
Passion. This is why they do not hesitate to declare 

42 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

that Jesus went up to Jerusalem to complete his divine 
work upon the cross of Calvary there. To the historian 
his state of mind and his actual intentions seem more 

Had he a definite impression that he had failed? We 
are justified in thinking so, for the facts speak elo- 
quently enough. Indeed, it is not easy to imagine that 
he could have succeeded in carrying out his desire. His 
moral injunctions had no meaning and could bear no 
fruit save through confirmation by signs heralding the 
great event he declared to be imminent; the fulfilment 
of his announcements alone could justify him. Now the 
signs were not forthcoming and his announcements have 
not yet been fulfilled, so that his later followers have long 
been obliged to maintain that the early disciples did not 
understand him aright, and that he had not told them 
the things he seemed to say to them. Firmly persuaded 
as he was that what he stood for and predicted was the 
truth, he may have convinced himself that its truthful- 
ness would be made manifest at Jerusalem, that there 
alone the Great Day would dawn. That is what we 
should be influenced to believe if we were to credit the 
account of his Messianic entry into the city amidst the 
acclamations of the populace, but for my part I do not 
think it veracious. 

Whatever may have been the intentions or the expecta- 
tions of Jesus, he made an ill-advised move when he 
betook himself to a spot which was not home to him, 
but one where his natural enemies were masters. Did he 
commit some rash act there, such as giving himself up 
to an open demonstration against the sellers of doves and 
the money-changers established on the Outer Court in 
front of the Temple? It may be so. 2 At any rate, the 
Koman procurator had learned to be suspicious of 
inspired Jews, and it was by no means difficult for the 
priests and scribes to persuade him that it was to his 

8 The account of the cleansing of the Temple (Mk. xi. 15-18) scarcely 
inspires confidence, and it may well be only an editorial illustration of 
the passage from Is. lvi. 7, which Jesus is reported to have recalled 
to mind. 


interest, for the sake of order, to put an end to the 
excitation of tumults by an insignificant Galilean. Pilate, 
therefore, had Jesus arrested, judged and convicted him, 
and crucified him. The people offered no resistance. 
According to all appearances, the efforts of our Evan- 
gelists to absolve the Roman of guilt, and lay upon the 
Jews the entire responsibility for the crime, are not 
inspired by a desire to be true to the facts, but by a 
desire to humor the Roman authorities, for they were 
writing at a time when these authorities were the sole 
support of the Christians against the animosity dis- 
played toward them by the synagogues. 

Jesus had not foreseen what would happen. The terror 
and flight of his disciples are plain proof that he was 
taken by surprise. Pilate's decisive blow caught him 
still deeply dreaming and seemed to shatter his work to 
bits. It is probable that in his last days on earth anxiety 
about the future, the uncertainties of the existing situa- 
tion and — who knows? — a doubt of himself may all have 
invaded his thinking and kept the thought of his 
approaching death which weighed heavily upon his spirit 
company. But nothing warrants us in believing that 
at that time he considered the sacrifice of himself was 
expedient for the achievement of his mission, while 
everything forces us to think that he said nothing of 
the kind. Indeed, since the miracle predicted did not 
take place, and Jahveh did not manifest himself, what 
else could he do save either to escape at once to Galilee 
or bow his head and submit to his fate? Perhaps he did, 
in fact, think of fleeing back to his own district; it has 
been supposed so, since, according to Matthew (xxviii. 
10) he told his disciples to meet him in Galilee. In any 
case, he had no time to carry out his intention, if he 
formed it. 


The "stumbling-block of the cross,' ' as St. Paul was 
to call it, 3 ought, it would seem likely, to put an end to 

3 Gal. v. 11. 

44 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

the undertaking of Jesus. He had stood forth to 
announce an event which had not occurred; he had 
perished; his disciples, filled with dread, were scattered. 
Ought not they themselves to be expected to abandon 
the hope he had aroused in their hearts, and to pity or 
curse his error and their own? Do not let us forget 
that he had established nothing. He did not come bear- 
ing a new religion, nor even a new rite, but only a con- 
ception personal rather than original of the piety 
embedded in the Jewish religion. Nor did he aim at 
changing either its creed or its Law or its worship. 4 The 
central point of his teaching was the Messianic idea, 
which was common property to nearly all his compatriots 
as much as to him, and only his conception of it was 
his own. Let it be noted, too, that it is impossible to 
affirm that his conception itself was actually peculiar to 
him. To attribute to him the desire to found a Church, 
his Church, to provide it with rites and sacraments, 
visible signs of his grace, and to prepare it for the con- 
quest of the whole world — these are just anachronisms. 
I prefer to say they are distortions of his ideas which 
would have shocked him, had he known them. But, then, 
what could possibly remain of him except some moral 
maxims valuable, certainly, but less original than they 
are ordinarily said to be, and the touching recollection 
of his virtues and his personal charm? Logic answers: 
nothing. Nevertheless, the history of events seems to 
prove logic wrong. 

The trusting faith of the Apostles triumphed over 
death itself. And here we come into contact with the 
most obscure of problems. They found themselves in 
Galilee once more, in the familiar haunts where they 
had lived with him; they believed they saw him again 
there and became persuaded that he was no longer dead. 
This is the fact, though its details are not known to us. 
As was inevitable, tradition has sought to throw further 

* It seems probable tbat his religious spirit was that of those known 
as anavim, i.e., the "Poor of Israel," pious persons, little esteemed by 
the scribes, who were attached to Jahveh more by their love and filial 
confidence than by exactitude of legalist observance. 


light upon it, but by mingling with it marvelous and 
improbable episodes of verification impossible through 
textual contradictions, it has rendered it unintelligible. 
The Gospel accounts of the Resurrection at our com- 
mand to-day seem to the critic like so many mixed col- 
lections of confused memories, of invented sharper 
details, of old "histories" that were fictions which had 
become commonplace and trite in the Oriental world. 
But what is there at their base, for there certainly is 
some residuum that is historically accurate? To all 
appearances, there is a vision of Peter, followed by col- 
lective visions, an example of mental contagion by no 
means unique in the history of religions. 

Let it not be forgotten that even if the Apostles did 
return from Jerusalem in great fear and perplexity, dis- 
couraged for the time being not only because that which 
they had surely anticipated had not occurred, but because 
a heavy, unexpected blow had been struck at them, they 
might nevertheless not have been reduced to quite hope- 
less despair. They attached too great confidence to the 
promise made them by Jesus to abandon it. The first 
moment of anxiety passed and they, back again in the 
milieu in which that promise had lately impressed them 
so strongly, reacted to it powerfully again, especially 
Peter. Now, in their minds the promise of Jesus was 
bound up with Jesus in person, and to confess that this 
person had disappeared for ever would have been equiv- 
alent to acquiescence in the loss of all hope. Their faith 
fixed itself upon, and, one might say, was hypnotized 
by, this one idea: "it is simply impossible that he should 
have abandoned us, that he should be actually dead." 
The inevitable culmination of concentration upon the 
same constant or fixed idea in the brains of men both 
uncultured and mystical, which were keyed high by great 
expectations and keen longings, is a vision. That is why 
Peter sees Jesus, and the others afterward see him as 
Peter has seen him. "Whether it was an open case of 
visual hallucinations or of visual appearances of any 
kind whatsoever interpreted as hallucinations, matters 

46 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

little ; fishermen from the Sea of Galilee would be equally 
foiled by both these phenomena. 

The visions convince the Apostles that Jesus is alive, 
that he is living at least as respects his spirit, which has 
been glorified by God. But in order to be alive, it must 
be that he is no longer dead, and, if he be no longer dead, 
to the Jews of that era no hesitation is possible over the 
conclusion that he has been resuscitated. I do not mean 
to say risen to life in the body laid in the grave, 
but risen with a body. Assuming that the Apostles 
thought at first the apparitions which they had seen 
were of his spirit only, they could not, we may be sure, 
retain this opinion long, since popular belief construed 
resurrection to mean complete resumption of the life on 
earth. 6 Also various passages of Scripture, in which 
they looked to find the resurrection of* Jesus announced 
and the justification for it, forced the belief upon them 
that he had issued from the tomb at the end of three 
days, or the third day. 6 This conviction of the Apostles 
is the foundation of the story, and it was upon Greek 
soil that the larger part of it first saw the light. 

For the time being I am not laying stress upon this 
enlarged construction just put upon the story by infer- 
ence. Let it merely be noted that the only Apostolic 
affirmation of it: "We have beheld him; God has 
revived him from the dead, ' ' contains a conclusion : Why 
should God have withdrawn him from the place of the 
departed if it were not that he reserved for him a role 
of prime importance in a great work in the future! 
This work could be none other than the establishment of 
the Kingdom, which the Master had proclaimed, and his 
role, that of the Messiah. This time it is two verses 
from the Acts of the Apostles (ii. 32 and 36) which per- 
mit us to grasp the Apostolic argument in action, as it 

6 Thus during his lifetime certain people believed Jesus to be John 
the Baptist risen from the dead (cf. Mk. vi. 14). 

a Hosea vi. 2 : "After two days will he revive us : on the third day he 
will raise us up" ; Jonah ii. 1 : "And Jonah was in the belly of the 
fish three days and three nights" (cf. Matt. xii. 40). We think too of 
Ps. xvt 10 (cf. Acts. ii. 27, 31). 


were: "This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we 
all are witnesses," reads the one, and the other concludes : 
"Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, 
that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this 
Jesus whom ye crucified." I do not guarantee, be it 
understood, that the expression put into St. Peter's 
mouth here is authentic, and I even believe the contrary, 
for the use of the word Lord (Kyrios) reveals appar- 
ently, a Hellenizing redactor — I mean that it pertains to 
the Christology of Hellenistic communities — but the 
occurrence side by side of the two affirmations certainly 
corresponds to a particular psychological background. 

If this faith of the Apostles in their Master's restora- 
tion to life had not been published abroad, there would 
have been no Christianity. It is from this point of 
view that Wellhausen felt justified in saying that, with- 
out his death, Jesus would have had no place in history. 
Conversely, can we maintain that the essential doctrine 
of Christianity rests upon his resurrection? From 
the standpoint of dogma, it would be difficult to exag- 
gerate its importance, and it would seem justifiable to 
use as an inscription beneath the title of every statement 
of the orthodox faith St. Paul's words in I Cor. (xv. 17) : 
"If Christ hath not been raised, your faith is vain." T 

Moreover, for those who seek to discover the factors 
that determined what Christianity became and its spread 
from the purely historical standpoint, this belief in the 
resurrection of Jesus seems scarcely less important, 
for it is through it that faith in the Lord Jesus became 
the foundation of a new religion which shortly after 
separated from Judaism and was offered to all men as 
the Divine "Way of Salvation. Through it again, the 
influence of the old Oriental myth of the God dying 
and rising again to lead his followers to life immortal 
will penetrate the consciousness of Christian communi- 
ties, at any rate the Hellenizing ones, and promptly take 
the Jewish Messiah, a national hero, unintelligible and 
a matter of indifference to the Greeks, and transform 

7 Or "futile," as in Moffatt's excellent translation. 

48 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

him into Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior, the Son 
of God and his ambassador in the world, upon whose 
name, as St. Paul says again, all believers call, and 
before whom the entire creation ought to bow the knee. 8 


To begin with, the moment that it accepted the resur- 
rection, the faith of the disciples could not fail to strug- 
gle to its feet and start to reorganize itself. 

I say, reorganize itself, for it is indeed evident that 
it could not longer live supported by the declarations of 
Jesus alone. His death altered the whole situation for 
it preempted from choice or necessity a place in the 
eschatological perspective. 9 It was first of all given out 
that the death was decreed to make the resurrection 
possible, proof supreme of the Messianic dignity of the 
Crucified, and this explanation passed during the 
interim while it was worked over into the great 
mystery, the necessary fulfilment, the aim and end 
of the whole work. So they said: " Jesus the Naz- 
arene showed himself to be a man inspired of God, who 
went about multiplying signs and wonders and doing 
good; he perished at the hands of wicked men; but he 
was the destined Messiah; God proved this by raising 
him up on the third day, and he will shortly come 
again in his celestial glory to inaugurate the Kingdom 
he has promised." In the preaching of Christ the near 
advent of the Kingdom seems to be the essential point, 
but in the Apostolic preaching it is the Messianic 
dignity of Jesus and his speedy return. These are 
the two themes, according to the Acts of the Apostles 
which the Twelve will shortly return to Jerusalem to 
develop. 10 

8 I Cor. i. 2 ; Phil. ii. 9 et seq. 

That is, the final stages, the Last Things, in the description of the 
end of the world (from the Greek efixxxog, "last"). 

10 I am not discussing here the question whether the choice of the 
Twelve Apostles was actually due to Jesus' initiative, or whether it is 
to be referred to the action of the first community of Christians, when 
they experienced a need for administrators. Critics are equally 
divided upon this point. 


"We are obliged to believe that they possessed powers 
of imagination above the ordinary, for, a priori, every- 
thing should have led them to suppose that they would 
meet with still less success than their Master, and that 
a like fate awaited them. If the Jews had not believed 
in Jesus during his lifetime, how could they be expected 
to adhere to him now that everything inclined them to 
believe that he had been mistaken, that he had not even 
been able to save himself in the hour of torture and that 
he had died a miserable death in the sight of the people? 
He was living again, they were told. But who were they 
who had seen him? His disciples. But that was very 
feeble evidence. And the facts are that Jerusalem gave 
the Twelve the kind of reception which any others than 
themselves would have foreseen: they gained a few 
scores of adherents, as the least important of sects 
might have done ; as long as they did not preach openly 
and spread abroad their heresy, they retained the good 
will of the people through the strictness of their piety as 
Jews and their assiduity at the Temple services (which 
well proves how little idea their Master had had of 
severing himself from the religion of Israel). When 
better known, they aroused the contemptuous animosity 
of the priests and scribes and suffered much indignity at 
their hands. Their mean condition and their peaceable 
nature — possibly, also, the correctness of their Jewish 
practices — warded off death from them, however; 
though, for several of them, this proved but a respite. 
They may have gained some recruits in the small towns 
near Jerusalem, but, according to all the evidence, they 
soon reached the crest of their success among those of 
Jewish race. This success seemed so limited in the eyes 
of those least prejudiced that it appeared to them likely 
that the Christian heresy would not survive the genera- 
tion which had witnessed its birth, and that soon the 
followers of Jesus the Nazarene would be lost in oblivion, 
like those of many another nabi. 

This was not what happened, however, for a new ele- 
ment now intervened which entirely altered the complex- 

50 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

ion of things. Unable to take root in Jewish soil, the 
Apostolic seedling found itself transplanted to a Greek 
terrain; we shall see how. It flourished there; and we 
shall understand why. Eight here, truthfully speaking, 
it is that search must be made for the first period in 
the evolution of Christianity. This will explain how it 
became oriented with its face turned away from Judaism, 
and toward a constitution for itself as a special religion. 



The Apostles and the disciples, reassured by the firm 
faith of St. Peter, reassembled, as soon as their early- 
fears had been dissipated, to try to reconstruct their 
shattered dream and to revive in their hearts the hopes 
that the Master had put there. They were, it must be 
remembered, Jews in mean circumstances and without 
culture. Their horizon could not be wider than that of 
Christ, and their ambition was confined to urging "the 
sheep of the house of Israel" into the way of salvation. 
Everything leads us to believe that, in the beginning at 
least, their Jewish exclusiveness was even disposed to 
show itself stricter in temper than that of Jesus. Nothing 
could have been further removed from their thoughts 
than the intention to carry the Good Tidings to the 
heathen; and, to tell the truth, it was impossible for 
them to conceive of the acceptance of the Gospel by 
Gentiles without their acceptance beforehand of the 
Jewish faith. But at that time a large number of Jews 
lived outside Palestine, and they were all counted in as 
members of the flock of Israel. 1 

1 The important work is that of J. Juster, Les Juifs dans VEmpire 
romain (Paris, 1914) ; see also in the Dictionnaire des AntiquiUs, by 
Daremberg and Saglio, the article "Judaei," by Th. Reinach, and 
Schurer, Geschichte des jiidischen Volkes, Vol. III. Upon the early 
beginnings of Christianity, its transplantation in the Greco-Roman coun. 
tries and its establishment as an original religion. Pfleiderer's Die 
Entstehung des Christentums may be read with profit, also Case, The 
Evolution of Early Christianity (Chicago, 1914), and K. Lake, Land- 
marks in the History of Early Christianity (New York, 1920). The 
following should be consulted : Bousset, Kyrios Christos, Chaps, iii and 
iv; J. Weiss, Das Urchristentwm (Gottingen, 1914), Vol I; A. Loisy, 
Les Actes des Apotres (Paris, 1920), and F. J. F. Jackson and K. Lake, 
The Beginnings of Christianity, Vol. I, Chap, i (New York, 1920). 

Upon the discussion raised by the Acts see M. Goguel, Introduction, 
Vol. Ill, Le livre des Actes (1922), and Jackson and Lake, op. cit„ VoL 
II (New York, 1922). 


52 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

During the four centuries preceding the Christian era, 
many causes had led the ancestors of these emigrant 
Jews away from their homes. Necessity, first of all; 
their district, situated between the Ptolemaic kingdom 
of Egypt and the Seleucid kingdom of Syria, had fre- 
quently served as a battlefield for the Egyptians and 
Syrians. In the course of their raiding expeditions both 
sides had made many prisoners who had never returned 
again. Similar incidents had happened several times 
during the long struggle for independence waged by the 
Maccabees against the Syrian kings. These were repeated 
to their own advantage by the Romans when they made 
war upon Antiochus the Great, and later when they took 
part in the internecine strife of Judea. On the other 
hand, when they were well treated the Jews showed 
themselves industrious, loyal and zealous. For this reason 
the Ptolemies and the Seleucids sought to attract them 
to settle themselves in large groups, an endeavor in 
which they succeeded. Some colonies established them- 
selves in the Nile delta and in Cyrene ; others in Antioch, 
Lydia and Phrygia. Lastly, the resources of Palestine 
were not inexhaustible, and the Jews were a prolific race. 
Feeling themselves crowded on a soil which frequently 
offered little return for their labor, many Jews, since 
Palestine itself was under foreign rule, went to seek their 
livelihood in countries under the same domination, and 
some found wealth there. Even in the second century 
b.c. an Alexandrian Jew, addressing his nation, was at 
most guilty of poetical exaggeration when he wrote: 
"The whole earth is filled with thee, and the sea alike." a 
Strabo, the Greek geographer, a contemporary of Christ, 
was also under the impression that Jews were to be 
found everywhere. It was true that they had spread 
throughout the Mediterranean countries, but they did 
not form compact groups save in the large towns of the 
Grecian world, in Mesopotamia and in Rome where, 
under Augustus, about twelve thousands could be 

8 Oracles Sibyllins iii. 271. 


Wherever they were, as a rule they forgot neither their 
origin nor their religion. They stuck together; they 
sought to obtain from the authorities a legal right to 
control their own internal affairs, and to organize among 
themselves. They formed a temporal corporation, with 
its own selected leaders, its elected magistrates, its court 
of justice and its customs; and a spiritual corporation, 
a synagogue, 3 whither all came to hear the Law read, 
to pray and for common edification; and this too had a 
small governing body of its own. Larger Jewish com- 
munities, like that of Rome, would sometimes divide 
their members up into several synagogues. The Greek, 
Syrian and Egyptian rulers had let their Jewish subjects 
live according to their own customs and had even granted 
them various privileges. The Romans followed this 
example, and a veritable charter protected the sons of 
Israel throughout the Empire, a charter which not only 
sanctioned their religion and legalized their assemblies, 
but took their dislikes and prejudices into account, and 
and as far as possible treated their religious susceptibili- 
ties with respect. 

This exceptional state of things their natural pride 
still further accentuated in these ways : in the contempt 
for the municipal forms of worship which it almost ex- 
cused them for showing, and other defects or absurdities 
which they took no pains to conceal, especially the peculi- 
arities connected with the services of the synagogue, 
which the common people regarded as the temple without 
any ritual dedicated to a god without an image or a name ; 
the rite of circumcision; the food restrictions of the 
Mosaic Law. Piled upon top of these, several abominable 
but greedily accepted calumnies spread with regard to 
them — for instance, of practicing ritual murder and ador- 
ing an ass's head. These oddities and calumnies had given 
birth, among the people of the cities where Jews were to 
be found in numbers, to very hostile sentiments with 
regard to them. The Greco-Roman world experienced a 

8 This word, like "church," means both a place where people gather 
together and also the gathering that takes place in it. 

54 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

veritable epidemic of anti-Semitism, which would have 
proceeded to the most violent measures if the Roman 
authorities had not restrained it, and which did occa- 
sionally outwit them. It is as well to note this in the 
very beginning, for very soon that hostility will be 
transferred from the Jew to the Christian. 4 

On the other hand, the Israelites, as a rule favorably 
regarded by the authorities on account of their submis- 
siveness and their industrious and sober demeanor, also 
attracted the sympathetic notice of those to whom the 
mythological puerilities, the coarseness of the rites, the 
metaphysical inadequacies and the low state of morals 
in the current pagan religion were offensive. At a time 
when the emotional religions of the East began to be 
the vogue, Jahvehism seemed to those predestined by 
temperament to comprehend it as the simplest, the lofti- 
est and purest of all. Besides, the Jews, though very 
exclusive, suspicious and unapproachable at home, had 
acquired better manners among the Gentiles. They did 
not rigidly close their synagogues to all non-Jews; they 
tolerated the ''proselytes of the gate." Nor did they 
refuse to instruct those who wished to become acquainted 
with the Law, and moreover, since this had been trans- 
lated into Greek, any educated man could study it by 
himself. In this way each synagogue acquired, little 
by little, a clientele of proselytes. Certain of them went 
so far as to become converts ; they received the baptism 
of purification, accepted circumcision, sent their ritual 
offering to the Temple at Jerusalem, and thus became 
true sons of Israel. Others, not proceeding quite so far, 
used to frequent the outer court of the synagogue fairly 
regularly ; they contributed some portion of their means 
to its up-keep and "lived the life of Jews" as far as 
their social status permitted. These were called the 
"God-fearers" and they were certainly very numerous 
in the large Jewries of the East and in Egypt; in Rome 

4 All the Greek and Roman testimony relating to the Jews has been 
collected, translated and annotated by Th. Reinach, Fontes rerum 
judaicarum, Vol I, Textes d'auteurs grecs et romains (Paris, 189M. 


they were recruited even from the higher classes, especi- 
ally among the women. 

The Jews of the Dispersion had not preserved entire 
either the customs or the spirit of their Palestinian 
brethren. The homeland exclusiveness, hatred of what 
was Gentile and morbid fear of contact with the ritually 
impure had been forced to give way somewhat in a 
milieu in which they would have made life impossible. 
These Jews were daily associates of " sinners,' ' and 
above all subjected as they were to its influence, they 
were also attracted by the Greek culture in which their 
surroundings were steeped. Setting aside religious con- 
victions and the chief practices imposed by them, two 
or three generations after their emigration these Jews 
resembled the Greeks of the same social class in language, 
demeanor and in intellectual caliber. The most learned 
among them professed profound admiration for Hellenic 
literature and philosophy; they felt its influence to such 
an extent that they were no more capable of discounting 
them to the glory of the Law than of discounting the 
Law to their glory. For this reason, Philo, the type 
of these Hellenized Jews, busied himself demonstrating 
in all good faith, in Alexandria, that the revelations made 
to Moses and his Laws were in complete harmony with 
the speculative thought of Plato and Zeno. To him this 
admission was merely a question of understanding them 
aright. 6 

Ideas considered of supreme importance by the Pal- 
estinian Jews grew worn and faded among those who 
were Hellenized: their Messianism for instance, instead 
of decking itself out in the garments of a narrow and 
aggressive nationalism, tended to go on dress parade as 
the conquest of the world for the truth. On the other 
hand, fresh ideas, foreign to their race, made a home for 
themselves in their minds. For example, they became 
more and more imbued with the Greek conception of 
the dualism of human nature. They no longer attached 

6 E. Brehier, Les id6es phMosopMgues et religiewes de Philon d'Alex- 
<mdrie (Paris, 1907). 

56 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

great importance to the future fate of the body, but con- 
centrated all their solicitude on the destiny of the soul, 
a matter upon which the Palestinians had never pro- 
fessed any definite and clear doctrine. 

There was a stronger reason still which kept the Jew- 
ish proselytes faithful to the culture and spirit of their 
milieu, for nothing would have induced them to be dis- 
dainful of that civilization which their education rated 
as the finest ever known and the most worthy of reason- 
ing men. While adopting Judaism more or less entirely, 
they maintained that they were adapting it, and only 
banishing from their minds, as from their lives, that 
which seemed to be utterly incompatible with what they 
borrowed from it. This is why the Jews of the Disper- 
sion and the "God-fearers" were found (especially the 
latter class) to be much more inclined than the Palestin- 
ians to discuss the statements of the Apostles and, 
eventually, to accept them. This, too, is why the very 
simple Apostolic doctrine, which experience showed to 
be very plastic, would be exposed to the risk of serious 
modification were it made known in the Hellenic 


This risk seemed all the greater, since, in some dis- 
tricts of the Diaspora, the Jews had not stopped short 
at adapting themselves to the social needs of their milieu 
and organizing their religious faith, or, at least, restating 
it in terms of their newer culture, whilst maintaining it 
in its integrity. Little by little they allowed some por- 
tion to become mingled with it of the ideas and beliefs 
of the surrounding paganism, whilst some of the pagans 
accepted in turn many important ideas from the Jewish 
faith and incorporated them with their own religion. 
We are ill informed respecting the syncretistic ' com- 

■ This is the name given by common consent to all religious embodi- 
ments in which elements which have come from different religions are 
organized. The special work upon the synagogues of the Diaspora, 
considered from the point of view that is of interest to us at the moment, 
is that of M. Friedlander, Synagoge und Kirche in ihren Anfanpen 
(Berlin, 1908). It must be read cautiously, for its statements some- 
times go beyond the import of the text. 


binations which were the result of such infiltrations, but 
what we can glean is quite sufficient to show us their 

The Jewish colony in Mesopotamia, for instance, was 
very favorably situated for undergoing, while believing 
itself to be combating them, infiltrations from Iran and 
from Babylon, those generators of amazing theories to 
explain the world and life in general, which are organ- 
ized into more or less coherent systems, or gnoses, as 
they are to be called later in the Christian Church. 7 
There is at least one of the combinations born in this 
strange milieu, into which Judaism enters as an element 
which we must name, that is, mandaism, a Judeo-Baby- 
lonian syncretism which seems to have served as the 
foundation of several subsequent composites which are 
of importance in the history of Christianity. 

Another Jewish colony which interests us strongly 
from the same standpoint is the one settled in Phrygia. 
In this district which, throughout antiquity, was dis- 
tinguished by the intensity of its religious life, the Jews 
at first form one or more isolated groups in the midst 
of pagan populations ; but they finally surrender to the 
pressure of their surroundings and react upon these in 
their turn, so much so that we perceive pretty clearly 
that many of their religious conceptions, adopted by the 
pagans, are fused with their own indigenous beliefs. 
The really Phrygian cult is that of the Great Mother, 
Cybele, and of Attis, her lover. Attis now receives the 
title of Hypsistos, the Most-High, which is of Jewish 
origin and corresponds moreover with a Chaldean belief, 
according to which the abode of the gods is to be found 
above the seven planetary spheres and the starry heaven. 
On the other hand, a facile and tempting play upon 
words identifies Sabazios (Jupiter) or the Phrygian 
Dionysos, with Sabaoth ; and we perceive, unfortunately 
only hazily, in the half-light thrown by the documents, 

7 The word gnosis means "knowledge," yet implies that this knowl- 
edge escapes ordinary men, and is only arrived at by revelation or 
initiation. Cf. Legge, Forerunners and Rivals of Christianity (Cam- 
bridge, 1915), Vol. I, Chaps, iii-vi. 

58 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

half-Jewish sects of Hypsistians, Sabbatists or Saba- 
ziens, who share the same hope, that of eternal salvation, 
of a beatific life without end, beyond the grave, obtained 
through the intercession of a Soter, a Divine Savior. 
The communion between the members of these sects is 
sealed by their participation in a liturgical and mystic 
repast which perhaps already has the virtue of a sacra- 
ment. I mean a repast which confers upon those who 
partake of it a divine grace, or a special aptitude for 
receiving such a grace. 8 

Similar combinations occur elsewhere — in Egypt, and 
above all in Syria, where we shall shortly note their 
formative influence upon the religious education of St. 

The syncretistic and gnostic sects based on Judaism 
therefore spread gradually outside Palestine; it is even 
quite possible that before the birth of Jesus they had 
already gained some ground in Judea proper, by means 
of the frequent pilgrimages to Jerusalem undertaken by 
the Jews of the Dispersion on the occasion of the great 
festivals of the liturgical year. St. Epiphanus, a 
Christian writer of the fourth century, although he does 
not always prove trustworthy, has furnished us with 
abundant information respecting these Eastern " here- 
sies." He describes in some detail one among them, 
named the Nazoreans, 9 which had obtained some vogue 
in the district beyond the Jordan, in Perea, before the 
beginning of the Christian era. Its partisans reject the 
Temple worship, but adhere to other Jewish customs; 
nevertheless they betray the effect of the foreign influence 
they have undergone by refusing to acknowledge the 
sacredness of the Law. Compared to other men, they 
consider themselves " saints' ' (as the first Christians 

8 Cf. Cumont, Les religions orientales dans le paganisme romain 
(Paris, 1909), pp. 94 et seq. 

6 Epiphanus Haeres, xix. 1, xxix. 9. For various reasons, however, 
the testimony of Epiphanus has encountered opponents. It is quite 
possible that* the old bishop's information was based upon a chrono- 
logical error. Epiphanus' critical faculty was somewhat weak. If 
this were so, the sect we consider the best known to us would disappear 
entirely from the purview of history. 


also do), and their name, like the epithet Nazarene 
applied to Jesus, is no doubt to be explained by the 
Hebrew nazir, which the Greeks translated hagios, i.e., 
saintly. These Nazoreans were very probably ardent 
Messianists, and possibly they addressed their worship 
to the future Messiah as the more profoundly pagan 
syncretistic sects do to their Kedeeming God. 

Our information, which is unfortunately still very 
incomplete, does not allow of our being assertive upon 
all points regarding these syncretistic Jewish sects. But 
the very fact of their existence is enough to prove that 
the distance between Judaism proper and the various 
religions of Western Asia could be bridged, for all have 
one feature in common, namely, the expectation of a 
Messiah, under one form or another, or even the adora- 
tion of a Divine Savior. It is not an improbable infer- 
ence that a revival of Messianic speculation, Palestinian 
in origin, but extending beyond the confines of Palestine, 
is in full debate in many synagogues of the Diaspora 
immediately around them, and even in congregations 
more remote than those of the "proselytes of the gate." 
The existence of these sects further proves that the 
orthodoxy of the Jews of the Diaspora was much more 
readily subject to encroachment than that of the Pales- 
tinian community. At a distance from the Temple and 
its priests, rigid legalism sometimes gave way for these 
expatriated Jews to more spontaneous forms of express- 
ing religious sentiment, or forms more in harmony with 
the general religious trend of the milieu in which they 
dwelt. In the end they filtered through. In other words, 
the Jews, especially the semi-Jews of the Dispersion, 
seemed disposed to accept the Apostolic statements 
respecting Jesus much more readily than the Jeru- 
salem Jews or those throughout Palestine. But yet it 
has to be feared that the faith in Christ Jesus would 
only add a new element, a more or less powerful com- 
ponent, to a syncretism which was already fairly complex 
in many cases. 

60 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 


The transfer of the Apostolic hope to the domain of 
the Diaspora came about in the most natural way, and 
almost inevitably. In the Book of the Acts we are told 
that the Apostles gained as adherents a certain number 
of "Grecian Jews" 10 (i.e., Jews living in Greek and 
Grecianized districts) who had come to Jerusalem for 
the Feast of Pentecost. Some of them returned home at 
once, others remained in the city; and it was not long 
before the latter had formed themselves into a group 
apart from the one which gathered round the Twelve. 
They elected as their leaders a kind of council or com- 
mittee of seven men. These Hellenists, accustomed to 
spread their doctrine around the synagogues of the 
Diaspora, by force of habit tried to impose their new 
faith, that is, their conviction that the Messiah promised 
to Israel by the prophets was none other than Jesus 
the Nazarene, crucified by Pilate, and undertook disputa- 
tions on its behalf in the synagogues which the great 
Jewish communities of the Grecian world maintained in 
the Holy City. There they encountered opposition and 
resistance which drew the attention of the Sanhedrin 
to them, and the most ardent of the Seven, a young man 
named Stephen, fell a victim to his zeal (Acts vi, 9 et 
seq.). Deeming that a longer stay in Jerusalem would 
now be of no avail to their faith, and dangerous for 
themselves, the Hellenists gave up the idea of making 
converts there and went to Phenicia, Cyprus and Anti- 
och, where they began to preach in the synagogues (Acts 
xi, 19 et seq.). "They spake unto the Greeks also" 
(i.e., to the "God-fearers") and many of these Greeks 
"turned unto the Lord." The Twelve had neither 
prompted nor even anticipated this initiative on their 
part; when they heard what was going on they sent to 
Antioch a member who could be trusted, named Barnabas, 

10 Acts ix. 29. The marginal note gives "Hellenists," and this alterna- 
tive term will henceforth he adopted. 


to conduct an inquiry into a situation which certainly 
made them uneasy. The enthusiasm of the new converts 
won over Barnabas; he recognized the "grace of God" 
in it and plunged himself at once into the good work 
which had been so well begun. He went on to Tarsus, 
where Paul was then living, and brought him to Antioch 
to associate him also with his work. He had found there 
one of the greatest workers of the future. 

Neither the Twelve nor the direct disciples of Jesus 
could, as we know, do more than mark time, as their 
Master had done, running the same risks as those he 
had encountered. Instead of proclaiming, like him, "The 
Kingdom is at hand," they said: "The Lord will come 
again," but prolonged waiting for that coming could 
not fail to diminish the effect of their message. It would 
thus be difficult to state precisely what the immediate 
companions of Jesus actually accomplished. Grouped 
around Peter and John — whom the brothers of the Lord 
who grew up with him in the same household seem 
soon to have joined, since Paul himself places one of 
them, James the Less, beside Peter in the congregation 
at Jerusalem — they evidently linger there and scarcely 
ever go far from the Holy City. Later legends show 
us Andrew among the Scythians, James the Elder in 
Spain, his brother John in Asia Minor, Thomas in the 
Indies and even in China, Peter at Corinth and in Rome. 
All these accounts are not equally improbable, but it is 
to be feared that not one of them is true, and, in fact, 
apart from the earlier chapters of the Acts of the 
Apostles (which we possess only in the form of a second- 
hand adaptation of the first edition), there exists no 
information really worthy of credence about the life and 
work of the immediate Apostles of Jesus. 

Such a silence does not predispose us to believe that 
they did anything very extraordinary and, as a matter 
of fact, it is hardly probable. We think we know that 
Peter, the two Jameses and, probably, John the son of 
Zebedee, suffered violent deaths, and through the writings 

62 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

of some of the heresiologians lx we can discern traces of 
the petty Judaizing communities they founded and which, 
from the time of the great Jewish revolt in 66 a.d., took 
refuge on the other side of the Jordan. They are soon left 
very far behind, as to doctrine, by their fellow-Christian 
communities on Greek soil, and in the second century 
after Christ they already are accounted "wrong-think- 
ing ' ' ; their immediate and direct influence upon the his- 
tory of Christianity is practically negligible. The quick- 
ening leaven is to be found elsewhere. 

1 * I.e., Christians who wrote upon the various heresies, such as St. 
Ireneus in the second century, the author of the Philosophumena in the 
third, St. Epiphanus in the fourth, etc. 



St. Paul has already been mentioned. He was born of 
a Jewish family established at Tarsus in Cilicia. It was 
a very bustling town, situated at the outlet of the Portae 
Ciliciae, by which travelers descend from the plateau of 
Asia Minor into Syria. It was also at the junction of 
important trade routes which brought it within the zone 
of ideas and influences alike from Greece and Italy, 
Phrygia and Cappadocia, Syria and Cyprus, Phenicia and 
Egypt. 1 In spite of a fairly recent attempt of the kings 
of Syria, in particular that of Antiochus Epiphanus, in 
171 b.c. to Grecianize it, it still remained in essentials an 
Oriental city, at least as far as its principal beliefs were 
concerned ; but it possessed flourishing Greek schools and 
what we should call a university which, according to 
Strabo, had an established reputation throughout the 
Greco-Roman world, especially with respect to philo- 
sophical studies. 

The masters who direct this university of Tarsus are 
attached to the doctrine of the Stoics and they are appar- 

1 Upon Tarsus, considered from the point of view that interests us 
here, consult especially one chapter of Ramsay's book, The Cities of 
St. Paul (London, 1907), pp. 85-244, and Bohlig's Die Geisteskultur von 
Torsos im augwstinischen Zeit alter (Gottingen, 1913). Upon the ques- 
tion of religion, Frazer's Adonis, Attis, Osiris (New York, 1914), Chap, 
vi, pp. 22, 1 and 3 ; 117 et seq. should also be studied. Unfortunately 
these authors have frequently been obliged to content themselves with 
faint indications, assumptions and probabilities, since the documents 
they have at their disposal are few in number and by no means 
definite. The old town lies beneath about twenty feet of sediment 
which has been silted up by its river, the Cydnus, and upon this the 
modern town has been built. For this reason proper excavations have 
yet to be made. All that we have at our disposal is a small amount of 
coinage, occasionally very difficult to account for, a few inscriptions 
and some passages from the geographer Strabo, who died about 20 
A.D., and of the rhetorician Dion Chrysostom, who died in 117 a.d. 


64 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

ently not content with explaining its tenets to the stu- 
dents who attend their lectures; they cast its essential 
principles and its leading affirmations, its most striking 
formulas and almost its spirit, into a veritable exhorta- 
tion or homily adapted to the common people. This 
explains the fact, so important to our study, how Paul, 
apparently without having attended the university of his 
native city, or studied the Stoic philosophy, simply 
because he has passed his early years in a milieu which 
intellectually had been Grecianized by these philosophers 
who were also rhetoricians, is not ignorant of the com- 
monplaces of Stoicism nor of the current methods of 
Greek rhetoric. 

The Acts of the Apostles (xxii. 3) would have us 
believe that he was brought up at Jerusalem "at the feet 
of Gamaliel," i.e., in one of the most celebrated of the 
rabbinical schools of that period. While it is of course 
impossible- for us to assert that this is not true, in any 
case it is very unlikely, for it is hard to understand how 
a pupil of the rabbis of Palestine should have come to 
disown and repudiate his masters as Paul did later. 
Instead on the contrary he perfectly expresses the kind 
of Jewish spirit which seems so far as we know, to be 
that of the Hellenistic synagogues. 2 It is probable that 
he did receive sound instruction "in the Law," that his 
religious teaching went far, but it was not received at 
Jerusalem. Not only in Palestine were there Jewish 
doctors, but we know that there were also some in Alex- 
andria; at Antioch, the mighty capital of Syria, they 
were to be found too, and there is reason to believe that 
it was in this city that Paul completed his studies. 

Born upon Grecian soil, speaking and writing Greek, 
he was the son of a family that was well fixed, since he 
was a Roman citizen and inherited the privilege from 

a Upon this important question see C. G. Montefiore's Judaism and 
St. Paul (London, 1914). It seems to me likely that the desire of the 
author of the Acts' to convince his readers that Paul had received a 
sound rabbinical education placed him under tbe guidance of Gamaliel, 
whose name was renowned in the Jewish schools of the Apostolic age. 
With equal improbability and with the same intention he has put into 
the mouth of Gamaliel (Acts v. 34) a speech in favor of the Apostles. 


his father. Thus he was admirably prepared to grasp 
and comprehend the religious aspirations of the Jews of 
the Dispersion who would come to believe in Jesus as he 
did himself, and also their proselytes. 

Violently hostile to the Christians at the outset, he 
ranged himself on their side after a crisis of which, for 
the moment, I shall only say that it was the conclusion of 
a long obscure period of introspective travail. It cul- 
minated in a decisive vision : he was convinced that upon 
a certain day when he was journeying to Damascus he 
had seen or heard the glorified Christ, and had received 
from him the status of an Apostle. It must be added 
that he had not known Jesus in the flesh and that any 
observations he may make about his personality or his 
doctrine will not be confined, like those of the Twelve, to 
actual recollections. Let us add, moreover, that he pos- 
sessed a soul both ardent and mystic, an argumentative 
mind, and that at the same time he displayed ready com- 
mon sense and indomitable energy in getting his mission 
accepted and imposing his ideas on others. 

The originality of these ideas appears striking when 
they are compared with those to which the faith of the 
Twelve was limited, even after its early expansion. To 
convince ourselves that this is so it is only necessary to 
reread the first few chapters of the Acts, and right after- 
ward the Epistle to the Romans. But we must take care 
not to fall into a certain delusion. While Paul's religious 
genius is unquestionable, note should be taken that just as 
in the work of Philo of Alexandria the results of Jewish 
speculative thought prior to his own are combined, so in 
St. Paul's thought, ideas and sentiments take shape 
which did not originate with him, and the only credit due 
him is the merit of having expounded them to us. A 
close study of the greater Pauline Epistles 3 reveals a 
combination, at the first glance both bold and strange, 
composed (a) of the fundamental affirmations of the 

* I refer to the Epistles to the Galatians, I and II Corinthians, and 
Romans, which critics at the present day are fairly unanimous in con- 
sidering as substantially authentic. 

G6 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

faith voiced by the Twelve; (b) of Jewish ideas — some 
borrowed directly from the Old Testament, others the 
product of much more recent religious thought; (c) of 
conceptions which were familiar to his Hellenistic and 
pagan milieu; and (d) of memories of Gospel ideas and 
of Eastern myths. 

It is necessary to lay some little stress upon this point 
because here we sink a plummet into the depths of the 
most serious problem set the student by the history of 
Christian beliefs. It is that of the process by which the 
mission, such as we have shown it to be undertaken by 
Jesus, was transformed into a religion of universal 


At the first glance that is cast upon the religious life of 
the East, from the Aegean Sea to Mesopotamia, it is clear 
that at the beginning of the Christian era a certain num- 
ber of divinities, so closely resembling each other that 
they are occasionally confused, occupy the first rank. 
These are Attis in Phrygia, Adonis in Syria, Melkart in 
Phenicia, Tammuz and Marduk in Mesopotamia, Osiris in 
Egypt, Dionysos on Grecian soil, to mention the chief 
ones only. The Persian god Mithra, then beginning to 
exercise sway in the Roman Empire ought, however, to 
be added to their number.* Men who travel from one 
country to another take their religious beliefs with them, 
and implant them without difficulty elsewhere because in 
this world of Asia Minor they everywhere encounter 
religious trends which are not only similar to their own, 
but which also express themselves in myths of the same 
nature and seek satisfaction in rites and ceremonies 

* Cf. Cumont, Les religions orientates dans V Empire romain; M. 
Bruckner, Der sterbende und auferstehende Gottheiland in den oriental- 
ischen Religionen und ihr Verhdltniss zum Christentum (Tubingen, 
1908) ; A. Loisy, Les Mysteres paiens et le Mystere chre'tien (Paris, 
1919), ibid., "Religions nationales et Cultes de mysteres," in the Revue 
dliistoire et de litte'rature religieuses, Jan., 1913; S. J. Case, The 
Evolution of Early Christianity (which gives an extensive bibliography), 
Chap, ix; P. Wendland, Die Eellenistisch-romische Eultur (Tubingen, 
1912), pp. 163 et seq. 


which are closely akin. It is not probable that the myths 
and rites really spring from different sources, but rather 
that they resemble each other because they are all trace- 
able to the same fundamental ideas and desires. Their 
very kinship has been an aid to numerous exchanges 
between them and their original embodiments. Their 
mutual interpenetration also favors these interchanges 
and gives them in the end a very striking family likeness. 
There still remain, however, very notable differences 
between the sacred stories which are supposed to support 
them. This medley of religions, which is called Oriental 
syncretism, tends to detach from the confused detail of 
creeds and the practices they involve a certain number 
of essential ideas and fundamental rites. It is these 
which stand out at first sight in no matter which of the 
cults I have just enumerated. As a matter of fact, these 
same essential ideas and fundamental rites finally seem 
clearly to constitute the raison d'etre for them all, which 
is to offer mankind a hope in and some means of secur- 
ing a blissful immortality. 

The most striking characteristic in the mythological 
history of their various gods is this : they are all reputed 
to die at a certain period of the year and be restored to 
life again shortly after, thus deluging the hearts of their 
faithful adherents alternately with intense grief and 
delirious joy. Note should be taken, moreover, that in 
themselves they are not truly great deities and that, in 
origin at least, many of them are closely akin to mortals, 
since they too die. Some, such as Attis, a shepherd, and 
Adonis, the product of an incestuous union, are even men 
whom the will of the gods has deified. Only the impor- 
tance of the function which they seem to exercise with 
regard to human beings gradually raises them high 
above their original state and turns them into really 
sovereign divinities. We shall shortly explain how. 

Upon the origin of these various deities and upon the 
principle, so to speak, underlying the myths they per- 
sonify, there has been long and profound discussion. 
Today there is need to hesitate between two explanations 

68 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

only, which, however, are not mutually exclusive. Noth- 
ing else than the regular succession of the seasons, con- 
sidered either with regard to the apparent progress of 
the sun, or with regard to vegetation, has given birth to 
the myth of a god who dies upon the arrival of the winter 
to be reborn at the beginning of spring. Some of these 
gods, therefore, were originally astral divinities, others 
agricultural divinities. In the end this occasioned a 
fairly natural confusion which does not allow us always 
to ascertain exactly either the true origin of, or the 
earliest character borne by any particular one of 

Clearly Mithra is a solar deity, and his birth occurs 
upon the twenty-fifth of December, i.e., the winter sol- 
stice; Osiris now appears to be a lunar deity, but per- 
haps he was not originally. Tammuz, on the contrary, 
is a god of vegetation, for the heat of the summer causes 
him to perish and the first breath of spring revives him. 
It is the same with Adonis and, apparently, with most of 
these gods who die and rise again; the evident relation 
between the sun's course and the processes of vegetable 
life upon the earth explains how it is that they could 
finally be represented as solar deities. Most of them, 
moreover, seem to be closely connected with a goddess, 
mother of the gods, the personification of the Earth or 
the fecundity of Nature, who gives them birth or makes 
them the object of her love. Thus does the Great Mother 
Cybele treat Attis, Belti-Aphrodite act toward Adonis, 
Istar toward Tammuz, Isis toward Osiris. And this is 
also why these gods are paired with and adored at the 
same time as these goddesses and practically dwell with 
them in their temples. While the problem of the original 
characteristic of a particular divinity may be of the 
utmost importance for a historian of religions, that 
which interests us still more is the form of representation 
and, above all, the interpretation of the myth of his death 
and resurrection. Our clearest information is generally 
derived from a study of his festival. This festival is of 
the nature of a drama which enacts a characteristic form 


of the death and resurrection of the god. Occasionally 
it is duplicated ; by this I mean that there are two festivals 
occurring at appropriate seasons of the year. In such a 
case, one of the two takes precedence over the other: 
thus, in the case of Tammuz, the celebration of his death 
in the summer solstice appears to be the chief one, and 
the same is true of Adonis, who is so easily mistaken for 
him. For Marduk and for Mithra and for the other gods 
who are plainly solar deities, the festival either of their 
triumph or of their rebirth is the main one. Sometimes, 
on the other hand, the two festivals are united in a single 
ceremony, which takes place either in the spring or in the 
autumn. In the beginning the death of the god is 
deplored, and then immediately afterward his resurrec- 
tion celebrated. Such is the custom at the festival for 
Attis, which takes place in the latter fortnight of the 
month of March, at the time of the spring equinox. 


By an evolution of religious sentiment which we can but 
mention here since to explain it, even to a limited extent 
would take us too far from our subject, this myth of the 
death and resurrection of the god ceased to be regarded 
as only a dramatic and touching story. It came to be 
commonly looked upon as the visible expression of the 
great mystery of human destiny. Upon earth mankind 
appears to be subjected to living conditions that are 
usually wretched. Even in the rare cases where common 
opinion declares that life to be a happy one, it seems so 
frail and so brief that he can scarcely believe that his 
being is really limited in duration to the phase in which 
appearances are present to his senses. He has therefore 
imagined for that indefinitely extended period which 
follows his corporeal death another existence, blessed 
and eternal, which his soul, i.e., his non-material por- 
tion, is destined to enjoy. But he believes that since 
he is incapable of qualifying for this better life 'by 
his own powers alone, to attain it he needs an intercessor, 

70 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

a divine mediator. And this is the office which has fallen 
to the lot of the god who dies and is restored to life 

Here is the way in which that mission is imagined to 
have been fulfilled. The god has suffered, as man may 
suffer ; he has died, as man dies ; but his restoration to life 
again is a sign of his triumph over suffering and death. 
And if his faithful followers do symbolize and renew in 
some ritual each year the drama of his terrestrial exist- 
ence, their belief has not changed that from the hour of 
the real occurrence of resurrection he himself is enjoying 
the beatific life appropriate to divine immortality. For 
mankind, already closely associated with his sufferings 
and death through the very conditions of their humanity, 
the problem of salvation amounts to carrying out the 
last link in this association that would involve for them, 
too, resurrection and survival in unending bliss. The 
solution of the problem of salvation so stated is found 
in a kind of ceremonious and mystic make-believe fiction 
in which the believer is supposed to identify himself with 
the god in a series of ritual practices deemed efficacious. 
Symbolically he goes through the various stages of the 
ordeals through which the god has passed, outward signs 
of an assimilation with the god which transforms his own 
being, and constitutes a guarantee that his future will be 
like that of the god and that, beyond the trials of this 
life and beyond death, immortality awaits him. The 
destiny of the Divine Savior (for that is the quality 
with which the god who dies and is restored to life again 
is invested) is both the prototype and the guarantee of 
the same destiny for his followers. A Christian author 
of the fourth century, Firmicus Maternus, 5 describes for 
us a nocturnal ceremony in the worship of one of these 
gods that shows the way to salvation. Those who are 
present are weeping, a prey to anxiety as to the fate that 
awaits them in a future without end, and a priest, pass- 
ing in front of each, anoints his throat with holy oil, 
slowly uttering the sacramental words the while : ' ' Take 

• De errore prof an. relig. xxii. 1. 


confidence from the fact that the God is saved; you shall 
be, you also, saved at the end of your trials." 

We do not indeed know all the forms of worship of the 
various gods that show the way to salvation by which 
this assimilation of the believers to the Soter was 
materially accomplished. But we are assured that in 
them all certain rites were so designed. At least two of 
these claim our attention: the baptism in blood and the 
communion meal. 

In the Phrygian cult of Cybele and Attis, but not in 
that alone, for we find it in various other Asiatic cults 
and in that of Mithra, a singular ceremony, called the 
tauroboliurn* took place. It formed part of the mysteri- 
ous initiatory rites exclusively reserved for believers. A 
deep pit was sunk in the precincts of the temple into 
which the initiated descended and it was then covered 
over with a grating upon which a bull was solemnly sac- 
rificed ; its blood flowed like red rain into the pit and fell 
on the naked person of the novitiate, endeavoring to 
bathe all parts of his body in it. This baptism accom- 
plished, the genital organs of the animal sacrificed were 
deposited in a sacred vessel to be presented as an offer- 
ing to the goddess, after which they were buried beneath 
a memorial altar. 

Originally these singular rites certainly were not sup- 
posed to have anything to do with the immortal future 
of the initiate; their aim was to obtain the cooperation 
of Cybele and Attis who, it was believed, governed nature, 
just as the Dionysiac initiatory rites, equally bizarre 
from our point of view, were deemed to draw the 
bacchanals of both sexes into partnership with the fer- 
tilizing work of Dionysos. But by the beginning of the 
Christian era, under influences which are difficult to define 
and determine, an evolution had apparently occurred 

6 Sometimes called criobolium, when the animal sacrificed was a 
he-goat. Cf. Hepding, Attis, seine Mythen und sein Kult (Giessen, 
1903) ; Graillot, Le culte de Cybele, mere des Dieux, & Rome et dans 
V Empire romain (Paris, (1912), especially Chap, iv; Loisy, "Cybele et 
Attis," Rev. d'hist. et de litt. rel. (July, 1913) ; Les Mysteres paiens, 
Chap, iv; S. Angus, The Mystery — Religions and Christianity (London, 
1925), p. 91 et seq. 

72 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

which converted the taurobolium into an efficient means 
by which to secure a blissful immortality. And this is 
how that use of it was explained. The pit signifies the 
kingdom of the dead, and the mystic, in descending into 
it, is thought to die ; the bull is Attis, and the blood that 
is shed is the divine life-principle that issues from him; 
the initiate receives it and, as it were, absorbs it; when 
he leaves the pit he is said to be ''born again," 7 and 
milk, as in the case of a new-born infant, is given him to 
drink. But he is not born the mere man again he was 
before ; he has absorbed the very essence of the god and, 
if we understand the mystery aright, he has in his turn 
become an Attis and is saluted as one. Then, in order to 
follow in the footsteps of the sacred history the further 
stage which makes Attis the lover of Cybele, he must also 
effect a union with the goddess. The offering of the 
genitals of the bull of Attis of whom he is now a colleague 
symbolizes this union, w T hich is carried out in mystic fash- 
ion in the nuptial chamber of the Great Mother. The 
mutilation of the bull also recalls the similar acts of 
Attis who, it is said, castrated himself under a pine tree 
and died as a result. 

The initiate is assured, at any rate for a considerable 
period of time, 8 that his fate will be the same as that of 
Attis at his inevitable death and a happy resurrection 
and survival among the gods his portion. In many of the 
cults of these savior and interceding gods, such as those 
of Cybele, Mithra, the Syrian Baals, and still others, the 
beneficial union obtained by means of initiation is 
renewed, or at any rate revived, by sacred repasts which 
the members, assembled at the table of the god, ate. 
This ritual banquet is often undoubtedly simply a token 
of the brotherhood existing between the initiates, a mere 
symbol, but "sometimes also other effects of the food 

7 The words Tanrobolio cribolioque in aeternum renatu-s are to be 
read, on an inscription rather late, it is true, certainly of the fourth 
century a.d., but they clearly show the ultimate aim of the taurobolic 

8 It seems as if the taurobolium were repeated after a lapse of 
twenty years; at any rate this was so toward the end o' the Roman 


partaken of in common are expected; the flesh of an 
animal regarded as divine is eaten because in this way 
it is believed that a union can be effected with the god 
himself, and participation thus secured in his substance 
and his characteristics. ' ' 9 Unfortunately we have only 
too few details concerning the food and the ritual of these 
sacred repasts, but their meaning hardly admits of doubt. 
We know, however, that in the Mysteries of Mithra there 
is a ceremony in which the initiate is presented with 
bread and a cup, accompanied (as a Christian apologist 
of the second century tells us) by "certain formulas 
which you know or which you can know." 10 

In the Mysteries of Cybele and Attis, we learn, on tex- 
tual authority, that the initiate takes part in a mystic 
repast. Its conclusion enables him to say: "I have 
eaten of that which the dulcimer contained, I have drunk 
of that which was in the cymbal ; I have become a myste 
(initiate) of Attis." The dulcimer was the attribute and 
instrument of Cybele, the cymbal that of Attis, and there 
is reason to believe that the sacred sustenance placed 
therein was bread probably or the flesh of sacred fishes, 
and wine. Now, if it be recalled that the name of Attis 
is currently linked with "corn," i.e., the food grains in 
general, we are justified in thinking that not only by 
sitting down at the table of the god and consuming the 
viands he is reputed to offer to his followers is com- 
munion here effected, but the act performed is the act of 
eating the god himself and thus becoming fully impreg- 
nated with his immortalizing essence. 

Is there any need to draw attention to the striking 
points of resemblance between these various rites, even 
if regarded superficially, and the baptism and the 
eucharist of the Christians! The Fathers of the Church 
did not fail to note these resemblances. From the first 
to the fifth centuries, from St. Paul to St. Augustine, 
there is abundant testimony to prove that they were 
struck by them. They explained them in their own way, 

9 Cumont, Les religions orientales dans V Empire romain, p. 104. 

10 Justin / Apol. 66, 4. 

74 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

however. They said that the devil had sought to imitate 
the Christ, and that the practices of the Church had 
served as model for the Mysteries. This cannot now be 
maintained. It is highly probable that in more than one 
case the reaction of Christianity led to changes in pagan 
cults which also were intent to secure for men eternal 
salvation by means of the intercession of a divine being. 
But the essential myths, the main liturgical ceremonies, 
the symbols and rites of these cults for effecting salva- 
tion are prior to the birth of Christianity, and in St. 
Paul's day, in the Hellenistic world which was his milieu, 
a large number of forms of worship were practiced 
which expressed them. 

And we must remember, too, that it is not merely a 
question of rites ; the issue here concerns a certain idea 
of human destiny and of salvation, of trustful confidence 
in a divine Lord, the intermediary between man and the 
supreme divinity, who has consented to live and suffer 
like a man, so that man may sufficiently resemble him to 
be able to effect a union with him and be saved by cast- 
ing in his lot with him, as it were. And this is exactly 
St. Paul's doctrine concerning the mission and role of 
the Lord Jesus. Not even the weighty moral element 
implied in Paul's teaching — I mean the injunction to live 
a life not merely pious, but pure, charitable and lofty — is 
peculiar to him, for the Mysteries, too, though to a lesser 
degree, made demands of the same nature upon their 


But — this is the question that at once occurs to 
us: Was Paul in^a position to get acquainted with the 
essential principles and fundamental rites of the Mys- 
teries, and could it be that he was influenced by them? ll 

11 Reitzenstein, Die hellenistischen Mysterienreligionen (Leipzig, 
1910), especially pp. 43 et seq., 1G0 et seq.; Poimandres (Leipzig, 
1904), pp. 79 et seq., 287 et seq.; Loisy, Rev. dliist. et de litt. relig. 
(Sept. — Oct., 1913), Les My stores pa'iens, Chap, viii; also C. Clemen, 
Der Einfltiss der Mysterien religionen auf da$ alteste Christ entwm 
(Giessen, 1913), pp. 23-61; Case, The Evolution, etc. 


"We are by no means fully informed about the religious 
life of Tarsus, his native city, at the time he lived there, 
but we do know that two gods were held in especial rever- 
ence. The one was called Baal-Tarz, i.e., the Lord of 
Tarsus, and the Greeks identified him with Zeus; the 
other was known as Sandan and the Greeks compared 
him to Heracles. 

According to all appearances, Baal-Tarz was an ancient 
rural divinity, presiding over the earth's fertility. In 
the course of becoming urban and being gradually con- 
fused with Zeus, his rank became more exalted and he 
assumed the appearance and characteristics of a celestial 
deity who rules over gods and men, enthroned so high 
above his followers that to them he seemed well-nigh 

Sandan, on the contrary, remains very near them and 
almost within reach of men. From the few documents 
we possess concerning him and the discussions and 
hypotheses to which these have given rise, we get certain 
information which helps us. This Sandan originally was 
also a god of fertility and, in a wider sense, of vegeta- 
tion; every year there was celebrated in his honor a 
festival in which he was reputed to die upon a funeral 
pyre and then ascend to heaven. Thus he is regarded in 
Tarsus the same as Attis is in Phrygia, Adonis in Syria, 
Osiris in Egypt, Tammuz in Babylon, and many similar 
deities elsewhere at the same period. It is even very 
probable that he has already done some borrowing from 
one or another of them. 

Did he borrow from their mysterious initiatory rites 
and their hermetic doctrine of salvation, however? Is he 
himself treated as a savior? Here we have a twofold 
question which can as yet be answered by hypotheses 
only. No document gives us positive information about 
the Mysteries of Sandan or describes him as savior; 
but since the other gods of vegetation that die and are 
restored to life again have their Mysteries and are 
regarded by their followers as mediators between the 
supreme deity and men, i.e., as intercessors and saviors, 

76 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

the way is open to think that it would be the same in the 
case of Sandan. Besides, the mere fact that Sandan 
afforded Paul the annual spectacle of the apotheosis of 
the dying god would of itself possess much significance. 

"Were there no other mystery-religions in existence in 
Tarsus at the beginning of the Christian era? Prob- 
ably. The very position of the city at the intersection of 
the commercial routes makes it likely that the traders 
circulated the ideas and beliefs as freely as they did the 
merchandise of the various countries, but it would not be 
wise to dogmatize upon this point. Nevertheless, the 
nearness of Phrygia and Syria and the relations con- 
stantly kept up with Phenicia and Egypt almost force the 
conviction upon us that the people of Tarsus were quite 
alive to the spirit of the Mysteries which flourished in 
these various countries and well acquainted with their 
principal myths and their fundamental hopes, and that 
they themselves practiced more or less their chief rites 
on their own account. The ancient world was the scene 
of constantly repeated exchanges of this kind in the 
domain of religion. 

Moreover, another ascertainable fact forms the basis 
of yet another inference of the same kind, that is, the 
knowledge that the syncretistic tendency which mingles, 
confuses, or combines deities whose appearance or func- 
tions seem more or less similar had been clearly appar- 
ent in Tarsus for some time past. Indeed, we may per- 
haps declare it to be the most outstanding and established 
manifestation of the religious life of the city. Now we 
are aware that upon syncretism the Mysteries are 
nourished, so to speak. 

It seems therefore very probable, if not quite certain, 
that Paul's childhood was spent in a milieu thoroughly 
impregnated with the idea of a salvation obtained by the 
intercession or mediatorship of a god who died and rose 
again, whose followers share his destiny by means of a 
mystic union of themselves with him, shown not only by 
a steadfast faith and confidence in him, but also, and one 
might almost say, above all, by symbolic and potent rites 


and ceremonies. There was no need to be initiated, any 
outsider could become acquainted with these religious 
conceptions and their ritual embodiment; I mean, know 
that they existed, and what they meant. That which the 
initiated kept secret was the commanding and arresting 
mystery which, as he believed, had altered his being — 
not his belief nor his hope. 

So, too, in Tarsus at that time, it was not necessary to 
become a student at the school of philosophy to know 
something of its doctrine. Under Augustus, Tarsus is 
literally a town governed by its university, and this cir- 
cumstance lends peculiar importance to all that the pro- 
fessors of this university do, in the view of the towns- 
people. Now these professors seem above all to be 
philosophers, and Stoic philosophers to boot. As I have 
already said, everything tends to the belief that many 
of them were already giving courses of instruction in the 
form of popular lectures, in which their chief moral pre- 
cepts and many of their technical terms would find 
utterance. When we read the Pauline Epistles and find 
there, sometimes in their very fundamentals and very 
often in their form, traces of the influence of the Stoics, 
we must not lose sight of these circumstances. Formerly, 
on encountering them, writers imagined that the Apostle 
had entered into relations with Seneca, even exchanging 
letters with him. This open invention is far less likely 
to account for the matter at issue than the fact just men- 
tioned concerning the importance and the characteristic 
features of philosophic life in Tarsus. Paul lived in a 
milieu entirely engrossed with the matter and terminol- 
ogy of Stoicism. And this second instance of the effect 
upon him of the sphere in which his childhood and, at 
least, his early youth also were passed, throws all the 
light needed upon our first questions, and equips us to 
understand how it was that this Jew of the Dispersion 
could almost unconsciously receive and retain in the 
depths of his mind ideas which would only ripen and 
reveal their full harvest to him at a much later period. 

One question, however, still remains open, and the 

78 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

answer to it would perhaps put into our hands very 
important information concerning the somewhat obscure 
preparation Paul received for his future religious life. 
Were the Jews of Tarsus all strict legalists or, on the 
contrary, were their synagogues more or less open to 
the influences of their surroundings'? Were there none 
among them who slipped into the syncretism of which we 
have already spoken, that seems sometimes to have had 
a tendency to convert the national expectation of the 
Messiah into a doctrine of salvation? If this were so — 
we do not knoiv, but I am inclined to think it probable — it 
would not be necessary to assume that Paul in these 
younger days should have felt in sympathy with these 
perverted Jews. We may even, relying upon the early 
orthodoxy attributed to him, as well as to his family, by 
the Acts of the Apostles, believe, if we choose, that he 
detested them. He was not ignorant of them, however; 
he knew thus early in life what they thought of salvation 
and of the Savior, and if we could be sure that he had 
really received these impressions in his youth, we should 
undoubtedly consider them the essential factor, or if you 
prefer it, the earliest germ of his life's religious 

However the decision may go with regard to this last 
point, it is at any rate true that if Tarsus gave birth to 
the Apostle of the Gentiles, the man who contributed so 
largely to spreading abroad, under the name of the Lord 
Jesus, a new religion of salvation, the conjunction was 
not an accident, but one thoroughly accountable. 

Let us remember how from another point of view — that 
of his general aptitude to do propaganda work for a 
doctrine of Jewish origin in the Greco-Roman world — 
he was particularly advantageously fitted because he 
could offer the triple qualification of Greek, Jew and 

When I call him a Greek, I mean that with his native 
air of Tarsus he breathed in something of the Hellenistic 
soul, even without taking note of it and, in picking up the 
Greek tongue, he acquired a most valuable instrument 


of thought and action, as well as the most convenient 
vehicle of ideas existing at that period. We must exag- 
gerate nothing, however ; Paul was not trained in Greek ; 
he was not a student of the great schools of thought any 
more than he was of the Mysteries. But he lived in a 
milieu where Greek was spoken, and in which words like 
1 ' God, " " Spirit, ' ' ' ' Lord, " < ' Savior, " ' ' reason, ' " ' soul, ' ' 
"conscience," assumed a meaning known to him. A 
certain eloquence, of which he retained some of the most 
striking methods, was practiced and a philosophy which 
left the impress of some of its maxims and not a few of 
its - technicalities embedded in his memory was studied 
there. A certain expectation of survival, not unknown to 
him, was the general belief that men hoped to realize by 
certain means, of which he, at any rate, knew the funda- 
mentals. Undoubtedly critics are right in maintaining 
that Paul's Hellenism was not the principal part of his 
make-up, that he was a Jew rather than a Greek, but 
only on condition that they do not lose sight of the 
important fact that he was a Jew of Tarsus. 

It now seems certain that, if he did not receive the 
advanced Greek culture to be found in the schools of his 
native city, he was educated to a high standard of the 
Jewish culture of those days, which regarded the pro- 
found study of the Scriptures as the one thing needful. 
I have already recalled the fact that in the Acts (xxii. 3) 
he is quoted as stating that he was brought up at the 
feet of Gamaliel, i.e., at Jerusalem in the school of the 
famous Hillel's grandson. I repeat that this statement 
does not inspire me with confidence and that I even hold 
it to be incorrect. It is, however, an incontestable fact 
that Paul's letters seem to display a rabbinical knowledge 
of the Scriptures — I mean, such knowledge as a rabbi, a 
doctor, usually possessed — and that in them he manifests 
a mind molded by Pharisaism; a shrewd, subtle and 
argumentative mind, attacking the Jewish Law with the 
very same weapons he had but just employed in its 
defense. He exhibits in these letters also a stock of ideas 
upon human nature, sin, the relation between sin and 

80 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

death, all of which are as rabbinical as the dialectic in 
which he clothes them. 

It is moreover noteworthy that it is the Greek transla- 
tion of the Bible, the Septuagint, which seems to be 
familiar to him. Doubtless he understood it in the orig- 
inal Hebrew, but I would not vouch for it, and, in any 
case, it is always, or nearly always, the Alexandrine ver- 
sion that he quotes, and with which he is, as it were, 
saturated. 12 This fact especially inclines me to the 
belief that it was in some rabbinical school of the Dis- 
persion that he studied the Scriptures, and not at Jeru- 
salem. Antioch, which was not far from Tarsus, comes 
to mind, for it formed the great intellectual center of 
Grecianized Asia, where like and unlike ideas and beliefs 
met and combined. 

Only a Jew could, at that time, interest himself in the 
initiative put forth by Jesus ; only a Greek could enlarge 
it to the world's measure and render it fertile, and, it 
goes without saying, only that style of Greek whose mind 
was not hemmed in by the pride of the schools and their 
culture. The man required, although belonging to the Hel- 
lenistic world, must be one, too, who would rather recog- 
nize and share its religious sentiment and its aspirations 
of faith than follow its intellectual trends. Finally, Paul's 
qualification as a Roman citizen procured him several 
distinct advantages. It shielded him from the narrow 
and malignant nationalism of the Palestinian Jew and 
inclined him to universalism ; by means of it he was to 
find himself led, even though unconsciously, to raise the 
hope born in a Jewish guest-chamber to the dignity of a 
world-religion. And it is for these reasons that I have 
given him the title of the builder of the future. 

12 The Jews of the Diaspora considered the translation of the 
Septuagint as much inspired as the Hebrew text ; this opinion, which 
their legalist scruples imposed upon them, was founded on the myth of 
the identity of the seventy-two versions made by the seventy-two 
translators. Evidently such unanimity presupposed divine inter- 


Paul's training as a christian * 

We should be wrong, however, in attributing to Paul 
alone the great work of implanting the Apostolic seedling 
in Grecian soil. It is true, and I repeat it here, that his 
originality is not to be denied; indeed it is hardly too 
much to describe it as almost amounting to genius. 
Rarely is a man found with a more ardent soul, more 
strength of passion and sharper drive in action and more 
potent abilities at transposition and adaptation. At the 
service of these qualities were gifts of expression, often 
inadequate and uneven, it is evident, but on the whole 
both admirable and prolific. Nevertheless, he did not 
originate all that he uttered ; he was subject to influences 
which determined his conversion and abruptly changed 
him from a zealot of the Law into an invincible witness 
for the Lord Jesus; he received a Christian education, 
and by this I mean that certain people acquainted him 
with the ideas current in their circle of the personality 
and the work of Jesus and it was upon this foundation 
that he erected what he termed "his Gospel." To what 
extent did he modify that which he had learnt thus in his 
own teaching? Or did he merely reproduce it? It is diffi- 
cult to say exactly, but at any rate we can press the 
problem home and arrive at the probabilities in the case. 

No means exist of determining precisely what connec- 
tion there had been between Paul and the disciples of 
Jesus before the crisis which made him the most ardent 
of them all. The question whether he had seen Jesus has 

1 V. J. Weiss, Das Urchristentum, Chap, viii ; Loisy, Les Mysteres, 
Chap, x; Goguel, Introduction am Nouveaw Testament, Vol. IV, Pt. I, 
Chap, iv; Ed Meyer, Ursprung und Anfdnge des Christentwms (Berlin, 
1923). Vol. III. Cf. G. B. Smith, A Guide, pp. 2S0 et seq. 


82 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

been long discussed in vain; it does, however, seem 
certain that he had never known Jesus. 3 The most reliable 
passages are found in his own writings (Gal. i. 13 and 
I Cor. xv. 9), which present him as a persecutor of the 
"Church of God," before the occurrence of the miracle 
on the road to Damascus. The account of his malevolent 
rage in the Acts (vii. 58; viii. 1-3; ix. 1-2) is to be 
appraised cautiously, with regard to detail ; it is probably 
influenced by a desire to render the abrupt reversal of 
his hostile sentiments yet more striking. At any rate, he 
oegan by detesting the enthusiastic disciples of the 
crucified Galilean and demonstrating how he felt toward 
them to the full. 

He detests, but in the process of showing his detesta- 
tion he forms acquaintance with the first community of 
Christians. While he may even consider the faith of the 
men he persecutes absurd, and their hopes vain, never- 
theless a tendency to converge is already working in the 
depths of his mind between the affirmations of these 
Galilean heretics and those of the pagan or Jewish syn- 
cretists of Tarsus or Antioch, in which he did not believe 
either. Light will dawn for him, when he becomes con- 
scious of this convergence from the interpretation that 
he, as a Jew, will put upon it. 

That which appears certain is that his evolution in the 
direction of Christianity was not accomplished at Jeru- 
salem, and that the form his doctrine took was not due 
to any contact with the Twelve. There is good authority 
for saying: "Paul does not proceed from Jesus across 
the bridge of the primitive Christian community, but by 
means of yet another intermediate link in the chain, and 
the order of succession is: Jesus, the primitive com- 
munity, Hellenistic Christianity, Paul." s 

The first Christian community of the Dispersion was 
not founded by Paul. The Acts (xi. 19) record the estab- 
lishment of groups of converts in the Jewish colonies in 

2 The whole question turns on II Cor. v. 16 : "Even though we have 
known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more." 

3 Heitmiiller, "Zum Problem Paulus und Jesus" ap. ZeitscMft fiir 
mi. Wissenschaft (1912), Vol. XIII, p. 330. 


Phenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, which do not owe their 
origin to him, nor was the first Christian church at Rome 
the outcome of his initiative. It is possible that Paul's 
change of front would appear less surprising if we knew 
more about the state of mind prevailing in these primi- 
tive congregations in pagan territory. Their Judaism, 
always less strict than that of Judea, had probably some- 
times dipped fairly deep into syncretism, and it seems 
unlikely that they would receive the statements of the 
Apostles concerning Jesus and not put an interpretation 
of their own upon them. The Hellenists who had brought 
them from Jerusalem had already begun in the Holy City 
to interpret them for themselves. Unfortunately we are 
obliged to try whether something can be divined of the 
creed of these early Hellenist communities by means of 
doubtful passages in the Acts and Paul's own allusions 
— and these are not much guide.* 


The first community of disciples in Jerusalem was 
purely Jewish. Upon this point we have no reason to 
doubt the accuracy ( f the testimony afforded by the Acts. 
Its members did not separate themselves from other pious 
Jews save in professing a belief that Jesus the Nazarene 
had been raised by God to the dignity of the Messiah, 
and that the promises were fulfilled in him. It is hardly 
conceivable that they should have had any idea of win- 
ning pagans over to this conviction peculiar to them- 
selves; there would really have been no meaning in it 
for a non-Jew. The utmost that the Jerusalem com- 
munity could do was to give a welcome to a few Jewish 
proselytes, and this is the historical meaning of Acts x., 
in which we read of Peter baptizing Cornelius the cen- 
turion, a "God-fearer," unless the whole episode is 
regarded as pure legend, as it has been suspected of 
being. But very soon and involuntarily, through force 

* Upon this point the book to read is W. Bousset's Kyrios ChHstos 
(Gottingen, 1913), Chaps, iii. and iv. 

84 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

of circumstances, this first Apostolic community ceased 
to be, if not purely Jewish, at any rate purely Palestinian. 
Almost immediately after its inception an element 
foreign to its essential character was introduced into it 
in the person of adherents whom the Acts qualify as 
"Hellenists," B who have already been mentioned. 

According to all appearances these are Jews who after 
a long period of years upon Greek soil have come to end 
their days in their own country. Included also, and above 
all, are Jews of the Dispersion, come up to Jerusalem for 
some important festival. The minds of both these classes 
work more freely and are more open to new ideas than 
the minds of the Judeans; it is not very surprising, 
therefore, that a good many of them should have listened 
to and believed the Apostles. But in accepting the faith 
in Christ Jesus they preserved their own mentality, and 
right here probably must be sought the origin of the dis- 
agreements that so soon arose in the newly mixed 

It is not our purpose to recount these differences; in 
any case, we know very little about them. a However, it 
is not too rash to say that they are concerned with the 
laxity which these Hellenists display toward the Law 
and the worship of the Temple. It is also due to the 
tendency which, as a natural consequence, developed 
among them to reason concerning the personality and 
the mission of Jesus far beyond the point which the 
Apostles themselves had reached. Apparently we are 
face to face with an application to the Apostolic state- 
ments of that spirit of the Dispersion which we have 
endeavored previously to portray. The outcome is 
that the Jewish authorities become incensed against 
these Hellenists, persecute them and oblige them to leave 
the city, while the Apostles remain. This means that the 
Apostles do not regard these views as permissible or 
accept those who hold them. 7 

6 Acts vi. 1 (R. V. marginal note). 
8 Acts vi. 

7 Acts vi. 7 ; viii, 1. Cf. Loisy, Les Actes des Apdtres, ad locum. 


Now it was these Hellenists, either expelled or escap- 
ing from Jerusalem, who were the first missionaries 
in heathen lands, i.e., in the Jewish communities in pagan 
territory, which comprise, as we know, born Jews and 
also proselytes more or less reconciled to Judaism but 
permanently in social contact with Gentiles. We catch 
a glimpse of some communities to which this early propa- 
ganda gave birth in Phenicia and in Cyprus^ but the one 
of capital importance derived from it was the Church 
of Antioch. Eenan viewed the matter correctly when he 
wrote: "The starting point of the Church of the Gen- 
tiles, the original home of Christian missions, was really 
Antioch. It was there that for the first time a Christian 
church, free of ties with Judaism, was formed ; there that 
the mighty propaganda of the Apostolic age got its start, 
and there that Paul received a definitely Christian 
education." 8 

From Acts xi. 19-20 we learn that, of all the Hellenists 
banished from Jerusalem, some traveled as far as 
Antioch, and there told the Greeks also the gospel of the 
Lord Jesus. 9 We must understand this to mean that they 
addressed themselves to the Jews first of all — for we can- 
not imagine that from the very beginning they should 
have gone outside the synagogue to work — and then to 
the proselytes who would be found there in large num- 
bers. It is by no means certain that these first preachers 
of Jesus deliberately turn with their appeal to the pros- 
elytes, but they do not avoid them, and as they certainly 
find them more ready to give a fair hearing to the Chris- 
tian hope than the born Jews, they accept and enroll 
them. I incline to the belief that very soon these 
"Greeks" constitute the large majority of the Church of 
Antioch. The name "Christians" given to its members 
there for the first time by the pagans seems clearly to 
show that outsiders realize that they have become dif- 
ferentiated by their new enlistment from those who 

8 Lcs Apotrcs, p. 226. 

9 Moffatt's rendering is given here, as more closely approaching the 

86 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

remain in the ranks of authentic Jewry. Possibly, too, 
they separate from it fairly soon, forming autonomous 
congregations, and yet more perhaps by subordinating 
real Judaism to the Christian ideal, by making the per- 
sonality of the Christ the main point of their religion. 

It seems in fact very probable, to put it mildly, 
that it was in this circle of ideas at Antioch, where 
so many followers who had not known Jesus pinned 
all their hopes on him, that an accent begins to be put 
upon his deification and it is accelerated, or, if it be too 
early yet to use that expression, his glorification begins 
to be fitted out with particulars. The idea formed there 
of his personality and his role tends to strip him of his 
Jewish character of Messiah, in favor of another and 
more general conception, something greater and grander, 
which is conveyed by the title of "Lord" (Kyrios). 

Do not forget that in their attempts to communicate 
their faith to the Jews the Twelve themselves were no 
doubt from the beginning in a very difficult position. 
The Scriptures, even with the addition of recent apoc- 
alypses, never envisaged a Messiah who would be 
ignominiously put to death. On the contrary, they con- 
tained this formidable passage: "He that is hanged 10 
is accursed of God" (Deut. xxi. 23). The disciples had 
therefore been obliged to explain to their own satisfac- 
tion how the death of Jesus could form part of God's 
Messianic design. They succeeded by starting from the 
fact of the resurrection and arguing thus : That resurrec- 
tion by God from the dead could only mean that a great 
part yet remained for him to play, and what could that 
lofty dignity be but that of the Messiah? The death was 
a necessary preliminary incident to the resurrection — it 
was the path designed by God leading to the elevation of 
Jesus from his humanity to the state of glorification 
now to be needed by him. And in this way Jesus became 
identified with the "Son of man" that the prophet 
Daniel predicted would appear shortly in the clouds of 

10 The Hebrew text gives "upon the tree." 


Now this idea of the "Son of man" is not to be found 
in Paul's teaching; he has replaced it by another which 
we shall shortly encounter and one that does not belong 
to the Judaizing Jerusalem Christian community. Not, 
therefore, from the doctrine of this community did he 
borrow the starting point of his Christology. The death 
of Jesus makes no impression upon the Twelve of an 
expiatory sacrifice; to Paul, it does: "Christ died for our 
sins." The Twelve never would have described Jesus as 
' ' Son of God, ' ' but merely as ' ' Servant of God ' ' ; whereas 
for Paul "Son of God" is the usual title given to Jesus. 
Certain ideas, therefore, which are essential to the primi- 
tive community are unknown, or a matter of indiffer- 
ence, to the Apostle of the Gentiles. Since apparently 
he did not create, even if he was able to improve upon, 
those ideas peculiar to himself, the assumption is war- 
ranted that he found them outside the Apostolic Chris- 
tian circle of ideas, and this could be only in a Hellenistic 
community. It is most probable that Antioch was the one. 

There is a significant title applied to Jesus which is 
peculiar not only to Paul's letters but to all New Testa- 
ment writings of Hellenistic origin, that of "Lord" 
(Kyrios). We have only to turn the pages of the great 
Pauline epistles to realize that the Lord dominates the 
whole life of all the congregations that Paul frequents. 
Each church forms a "body" of which the Lord is the 
"head"; or, if the reader prefers, it constitutes a group of 
worshipers in which he occupies the central place. One 
noteworthy passage from the Epistle to the Philippians 
(ii. 9-10) brings this out very clearly: "Wherefore also 
God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name 
which is above every name; that at 11 the name of Jesus 
every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on 
earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue 
should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (oti KYPI02 
IH20YS XPI2T02) the glory of God the Father." 
The sacred name in the cult of the Old Testament for 
Jahveh, the one which dominates all the worship of the 

"A. V. 

88 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

Temple in Jerusalem, and, quite certainly, that of the 
Judaizing Christians still, seems to be transferred and 
inure to the benefit of this new Kyrios. For it is Jahveh 
himself who once affirmed (Is. xlv. 23) : ''Unto me every 
knee shall bow." This makes it seem that he has abdi- 
cated from power in favor of Jesus. 

It is scarcely likely that Paul should have invented 
and given such wide currency to this title so charged with 
meaning, for the extent and intricacy of the process of 
dissemination involved would be something that sur- 
passes human will. This paves the way for the assumption 
that long preparation for its acceptance had been going 
on in the consciousness of those who came to hallow it. 
Now, setting aside hypotheses which have no solid foun- 
dation, designed in attempts to prove that the word 
Kyrios may be of Jewish origin, we find that it is the 
term by which Greek slaves denote their respect for their 
master, and that it actually signifies the relation between 
the slaves of Christ and Christ himself {cf. I Cor. vii. 
22). It is a title never applied to classic deities — I mean 
those really Greek, or to Roman either, if its Latin 
equivalent be rendered by Dominus — but which is spe- 
cially applied to the gods of salvation in Asia Minor, 
Egypt and Syria, when they are spoken of in Greek. 
From them its use also extended to sovereigns. 12 

It was in the Syrian atmosphere that the first Hellen- 
istic Christian communities were born and grew. There, 
around their cradle, the title of Kyrios and the cult or 
worship ritual underlying it by which salvation was 
obtained spread rapidly. Living neighbor to this circle 
of ideas, the young Hellenistic Christian community, 
already tending, almost without suspecting it, to deviate 
from Judaism, and no longer submitting as rigidly as 
the Palestinians to the constraint of Old Testament mon- 
otheism, installs a similar cult or worship ritual of 
Christ, or if this other way of putting it be pre- 
ferred, organizes itself around the worship of Christ. 

12 Cf. Deissruann. Licht com Ostcn (Tubingen, 1909), pp. 263 et seq.; 
consult the index of the Greek words under K.i/rios, p. 350. 


And it is there that it receives the name "Chris- 
tian" to express the dominating position of the Christ 
in its rites of worship. It therefore appears natural 
that this young Hellenistic Christian community 
should have applied to him whom a pagan would 
have called its religious hero the characteristic title of 
1 'Lord," or Kyrios, which was in current use for this 
purpose all around it. 

In settling upon this terrain of Hellenistic piety, that 
which we call, somewhat prematurely, Christianity, 
assumes the form of a faith in Christ as the Lord or 
Kyrios, and a cult or worship ritual of the Christ as the 
Kyrios, whilst the Galilean Apostles are still content 
with faith in Jesus and in what he has said, and still 
show themselves assiduous in the use of the cult or 
worship ritual of the Jewish Temple. 

Never, it may be said, will Christianity undergo any 
more important metamorphosis in the future than the 
one which now concerns us. The "Son of man" of the 
Judaizing Christian congregations of Palestine may be 
regarded as constituent of Jewish eschatology. I 
mean that he finds his true place only in the tableau 
of the Last Things imagined by Jews, and to which 
Jews can alone adhere; it is therefore properly to be 
in point of time and place an eschatological greatness. 
He is to dwell apart in the heavens until the advent of 
the Messianic Kingdom. On the contrary, the greatness 
of the Lord or Kyrios of the Hellenistic Christian com- 
munity, both in cult and in worship ritual, is an actual 
and present greatness; the faithful who are gathered 
together "in his name" feel that he is there in the midst 
of them, just as the initiates of the Mysteries felt the 
presence of the deity in the secret ceremonies in which 
they took part. If, then, we let these two ideas of the 
Son of man and the Lord confront each other, we 
shall recognize that the conceptions are so different 
that they are really opposed to each other. Evidently 
the future is with the Greek conception, because it 
undoubtedly emanates from the depths of the religious 

90 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

life of the milieu that has engendered it. The other 
although older one remains buried away in texts 
and gradually loses status until it becomes reduced to 
a formula which is incomprehensible and inoperative for 
non-Jewish Christian believers. 

It is upon this double basis of faith in the Lord and 
the cult or worship ritual of the Lord Jesus that Paul's 
Christology really rests, and the acquisition of the con- 
ceptions relating to it forms the major part of his train- 
ing as a Christian. These conceptions go back beyond 
his time and he borrowed them from a milieu which, 
through his general education on Greek soil, was much 
more intelligible to him than to the Judeo-Christian 
society of Palestine. 

But in this Syrian milieu, as we know, the conception 
was current also of the god, i.e., the Divine Lord who 
dies and rises again for the salvation of his followers. 
Can it be that Paul was not the first but that before Paul's 
day the Hellenistic communities had used it to explain 
and account for the death of the Lord Jesus? In other 
words, was it not to his early Christian teachers that 
Paul owed the fundamental assertion of his soteriology : 
' 'Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures"? 
It is at present impossible to prove it, but a whole com- 
bination of circumstances renders it probable. Here I 
shall refer to but one only : The Mysteries clearly make 
the tempting suggestion that not only the idea of a sym- 
bol, a type of the death and resurrection of all his fol- 
lowers, attaches to the death and resurrection of the 
Christ, but also the force of an example and a guarantee. 
Pressure also proceeded from the Mysteries in favor of 
the belief that the salvation of the devoted follower 
depended upon his union with Christ the Savior, a union 
which could be brought about by observance of the 
efficacious rites. In Paul's view these rites are clearly 
Baptism, the symbol of the death and rebirth in Christ, 
and the Eucharist the communion meal at the Lord's 
table. In taking from the rites of Jewish proselytism 
the practice of the baptism of purification and from the 


Galilean Apostles that of the breaking the bread in com- 
mon, it is indeed difficult to imagine that the Hellenistio 
Christian community should not from the beginning have 
charged both ceremonies with profound and mystic sig- 
nificance, inspired by the suggestions of these same 
Mysteries, in which category this Savior-Lord-Jesus 
conception seems to have so distinct a place. Paul treats 
all these ideas as if they presented no difficulties; he 
broadcasts the mystic formulas which relate to them so 
freely and spontaneously that we get the impression, to 
say the least, that he is speaking a language already 
familiar to the congregations he is addressing. It is not 
he who has discovered the root ideas which he is exploit- 
ing, he has merely probed into them more deeply and 
enriched them. And lastly, if his own words be taken 
literally, they confirm this impression: "I delivered 
unto you . . . that which I also received . . . that Christ 
died for our sins according to the Scriptures" (I Cor. 
xv. 3). 


If we admit the probability that the groundwork of the 
doctrine we are accustomed to consider Paulinism was 
communicated to Paul in a Hellenistic Christian com- 
munity — which is most likely that of Antioch — his con- 
version becomes much easier to understand than if we 
set him, the orthodox Jew and Pharisee, face to face 
with the declarations of no great weight — even after 
their revision by the first Hellenist converts — of the 
Judeo-Christians of Jerusalem and say that which he at 
first detested and combated he had suddenly turned round 
and adopted. If the fact be that (a) Paul first became 
acquainted with these fundamental ideas and practices 
of his mentioned above in a Christian community 
of Hellenists where they were current coin, and (b)J 
moreover, as I have said I believe to be the case, he 
was really brought up, not in the Judaism of Palestine, 
but in the much more yielding, and more or less syn- 
cretistic Judaism of the Diaspora at Tarsus or Antioch, 

92 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

and (c), from his childhood, faith in salvation through 
a God who dies and rises again has met him at every 
turn and obtained, without his suspecting it, a foothold 
in his mind, even while he was still rejecting it as a 
horrible pagan idea; and (d) through the influence of 
this Savior-God concept, again without his having any 
idea of it either, his own Messianic hope was already 
tending to be universalized, and — who knows? — perhaps 
to put itself forward as more or less of a parallel, like 
the true and its counterfeit, to the hope expressed 
through the Mysteries, and (e) his education and the 
influences of his milieu teach him better than to regard 
everything in paganism as gross error and absurdity — 
then it seems to me that we are coming nearer to a 
natural and logical and satisfactory explanation of his 
conversion. He was converted from the day upon which 
he became convinced that the Christians were right in 
attributing to Jesus the Nazarene the fulfilment of that 
work of salvation of which the pagans have an inkling. 
They credit its accomplishment in their blindness to 
their own devils, but the Scriptures had long ago prom- 
ised that achievement to Israel. In other words, this 
conversion is brought about by the sudden meeting 
in his consciousness, so to speak, between ideas which are 
profound, yet long familiar, and the Christian rendering 
of them presented by Hellenists in a form digestible by 
a Jew brought up on Greek soil. His rabbinic training 
causes him naturally to proceed to explain and adjust 
and correlate "that which he has received." 

But how could a transaction of this nature which 
absolutely reversed, in appearance at least, the orienta- 
tion of his religious consciousness have been possible? 
He himself looked upon it as a miracle which he con- 
ceived actually divided his life into two periods : before, 
all was gloom; after, dazzling light. The Christ spoke 
to him on the road to Damascus and told him clearly 
what he was to do. His entrance accordingly into 
Christianity, like the mode of entrance upon a Mystery- 
religion, was not an act based on a calculated and rea- 


soned conclusion, but in obedience to an irresistible 

That Paul believed in the full reality of his vocation 
there is no manner of doubt ; unfortunately neither what 
he says about it himself nor what we learn from the 
Acts 18 admits of a near enough approach to the phe- 
nomenon for us to be able to analyze it really satisfac- 
torily. This does not imply that in itself it seems very 
mysterious, for the history of religions, especially those 
of the Greco-Roman world, abounds in more or less 
similar cases. 14 Except for that which we do not know, 
that is, the immediate circumstance which led to the 
decisive shock in Paul's consciousness, we may assert, 
regarding the matter in the light of modern psychology, 
that it was an effect prepared for by a fairly long period 
of travail of soul. The components of this inward dis- 
tress are, in the first place, the Apostle's own tempera- 
ment, which predisposed him to sudden shock and to 
mystic hallucinations ; and, in the second place, influences 
which had been slowly deposited, if I may put it thus, 
in the depths of his subconscious mind: the Mysteries 
of Tarsus and Antioch had familiarized him with the 
idea of Soter (Savior); his Jewish teachers turned his 
mind toward the expectation of the Messiah; his 
childhood's surroundings have accustomed him not 
to condemn off-hand all that comes from pagan sources ; 
above all a profound anxiety with regard to religious 
matters, of which we learn from a well-known passage 
in the Epistle to the Romans (vii. 7 et seq.). It would 
undoubtedly be an error to rely too much, on this passage, 
because its subject is Paul's state of mind before his 
conversion, but it is interpreted as he saw it afterward, 
and the language used is the language of a convert. We 
can nevertheless glean from it that the future Apostle 
felt himself unable to strive successfully against sin 
which the Law, as expounded by the learned among the 

13 Gal. i. 12-17; I Cor. ix. 1; xv. 8. Acts ix. 3 et seq.; xxii. 6 et seq.; 
xxvi. 13 et seq. 

14 Special comparison may be made with Apuleius Metamorphoses 11, 
and Acts ix. 10 et seq. 

94 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

Pharisees, shows him present everywhere. This was 
exactly the state of mind which at that period led to the 
eager seeking for the Savior, the Divine Mediator, the 
infallible Guide to Truth and to Life. 

Paul, then, feels himself far from God, in a state of 
imperfection and sin, a condition of mind, to say the 
least, surprising in a true rabbi, for whom faith is joy 
and certainty; but — we often have to come back to this 
point of view — Paul is a Pharisee of the Diaspora. It is 
scarcely possible but that the gladness and assurance 
which he finds among the Christians he encounters should 
have struck him forcibly, from its very contrast with his 
own state of anxiety. If, as I believe, it is not the 
simple hope of the Galilean by which he is confronted but 
by a Christology which has already been somewhat Hel- 
lenized and has given to the death of Jesus the meaning 
of an expiation for our sins, " according to the Scrip- 
tures," it is not difficult to surmise that he may have 
been fascinated by these ideas and the evidence in sup- 
port of them. He may in them have dimly perceived, 
before he saw it clearly, a solution satisfactory to him- 
self, of the difficulty that he had long been debating. 

This work of preparation doubtless is carried on 
secretly, outside his active consciousness, each aspect of 
the future synthesis maturing, as it were, separately in 
its own way. The synthesis itself when it takes place 
is effected in a flash of mysticism, by an unexpected 
stroke of inspiration. Such an abrupt upheaval of a 
person's entire being is not rare with great mystics, and 
the vision of Francis of Assisi on the way to Spoleto, 
or the apparition of the Virgin to Ignatius Loyola, to 
take two instances only, may be set side by side with 
the miracle on the road to Damascus. All three proceed 
from causes more or less similar, and lead to conse- 
quences alike in their meaning. 

In summing up, I imagine that Paul had undergone a 
twofold preparation for the crisis which made him a 
potential Christian and a would-be Apostle : one of them 
somewhat negative and the other positive. The first in 


the final analysis can be resolved into two elements: (a) 
the idea of the Savior. While Paul does not set much 
store by it in the beginning, it is inseparable from his 
early impressions and tends at least to resemble the 
form of expectation of the Messiah held by him as a 
Jew of the Diaspora, (b) His Pharisaic experience of 
the Law, which leaves him in anguish of soul through 
sin that threatens from all sides and makes escape hope- 
less. The second is to be found in the exhibition of 
assurance on the part of the Hellenist Christian who 
counts on liberation from the power of sin and salvation 
through the Lord Jesus. His conversion, then, may be 
regarded as the sudden resolution of all these different 
elements and, even if its actual cause remains a hidden 
mystery, the process of it is known to us in some other 

Moreover, it is the logical outcome of such a process 
that Paul, with his temperament, is not content, any 
more than Francis of Assisi or Ignatius Loyola, with 
mere conversion, but that from a persecutor he must 
become an Apostle. Let us note carefully that the vision 
on the road to Damascus has not changed Paul; it has 
merely impelled him to apply his former principles of 
thought and action in another direction. He adopts 
Jesus nolens volens; he adds to his information about 
him, possibly first at Damascus, certainly at Antioch 
afterward, and there he begins to meditate and speculate 
about what he " receives" by processes familiar to him 
as a Jew and a Pharisee of the Dispersion. Even when 
he is fighting for his new faith against the Law, he still 
remains a Jew as before. Renan expresses his attitude 
correctly when he says that Paul had only changed his 
fanaticism. 16 

Assuredly he was not the man to be satisfied with 
" receiving. ' ' There is no doubt that his Gospel owes 
much to personal inspiration as well as to suggestions 
having their origin in his apostolate itself, as we shall 

16 Les Apdtres, p. 183; cf. Deissmann, Paulus (Tubingen, 1911), pp. 
67 et seq. 

96 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

see. But he has "received." He says so himself. And 
that which he has received is the nucleus of his doctrine, 
and also, at least implicitly, of those amplifications 
which touched and conquered him and which in his turn 
he will spread abroad, expounding them with indomitable 
energy : a veritable religion of salvation for all men. 



It is from the Acts that we learn that the road to 
Damascus was the scene of Paul's conversion and that 
same city the center of his early activities, and we find 
no difficulty in crediting this statement. The main point 
for us to note is that it was not in Jerusalem nor in 
association with the Twelve that he served his appren- 
ticeship as a Christian missionary, nor did he regard 
himself as subordinate to them. Convinced that Jesus 
himself, the glorified Christ, had constituted him an 
Apostle by a special act of his own initiative, he does 
not allow anyone to question the fact, and it is his con- 
viction that he has no need of counsel or Christian 
instruction from anyone. Let us recall the bold declara- 
tions of the Epistle to the Galatians (i. 10 et seq.) : "Am 
I now persuading men, or God? or am I seeking to please 
men? If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a 
servant of Christ. For I make known to you, brethren, 
as touching the gospel which was preached by me, that 
it is not after men. For neither did I receive it from 
man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through 
revelation of Jesus Christ. 

". . . When it was the good pleasure of God, who 
separated me, even from my mother's womb, and called 
me through his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I 
might preach him among the Gentiles; immediately I 
conferred not with flesh and blood" (here we under- 
stand: with any human authority): "Neither went I 
up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me. 

1 V. Deissman, Paulus; Goguel, Introduction au JV. 7\, Vol. IV; J. 
Weiss, Das Urchristentum, Chaps, ix-xix ; G. B. Smith, A Guide, pp. 280 
et seq. 


98 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit 
Cephas. ' ' 

Let us note also that the very essence of Christian 
teaching- was undoubtedly contained in a few sentences 
and that Paul apparently was acquainted with these 
before the vision which decided his conversion, so that 
he found no difficulty in teaching immediately that which 
he had now come to espouse. On the other hand, we 
can understand that while the Christian community in 
Jerusalem might not question the sincerity of his con- 
version, it should have reservations in regard to the 
reality of his vocation and find some difficulty in admit- 
ting that he was qualified to speak of Jesus — he who had 
never known him — with as much authority as they 
themselves, who had shared his daily life. It was only 
after the lapse of three years that he did decide to go 
up to Jerusalem, and then he found a defiant attitude 
toward him in the little Apostolic world there, and no 
doubt would have been unable to enter freely among 
them had it not been for Barnabas, who was so struck 
by his zeal and his strong convictions that he took him 
to Peter and to James, and they decided to welcome him 
and recognize his mission. 

From the beginning he certainly differed from them 
about "the things concerning Jesus"; that is, he adhered 
to the Christology of the Hellenists, which went further 
than theirs. If we may believe Acts ix. 29, the exposi- 
tion of his beliefs which he undertook in the Hellenizing 
synagogues of the city, frequented by the Greek-speaking 
Jews, aroused such a tumult that he was forced to leave 
Jerusalem. He withdrew to Syria and Cilicia, i.e., to 
Antioch and Tarsus. On to Tarsus Barnabas went and 
sought him, after the sight of all that had been done for 
Christianity in Antioch had served as a clue to this note- 
worthy man (about whom we should like to know more) 
to the future of the Christian faith upon Greek soil. 

Upon Barnabas' initiative it was, therefore, that Paul 
undertook to spread the Good Tidings of the Lord Jesus 
throughout the world, and inaugurated that hard life of 


missionary labor which he was to lead in Asia Minor and 
in Greece until the time of his arrest by the Eoman 
authorities at Jerusalem. He used to go from city to city, 
stopping wherever there were important Jewish com- 
munities. First of all he would preach in the synagogues, 
and usually his Gospel, as he called it, would excite dire 
anger there among the born Jews. If he was able to 
delay the date of his expulsion from town, he would try 
to convince the proselyte Jews, and would preach to 
them by themselves in some private house. Wherever 
he succeeded tolerably well he would remain for some 
months — as he did at Corinth — or he would return there 
— as he did to Ephesus. In addition, he used to keep 
up a more or less active correspondence with the 
churches he had ' ' planted, ' ' to sustain them in their new 
faith, and sometimes he would take them to task for their 
shortcomings. It is not our purpose to lay stress here 
upon this busy and troublous, perilous yet fruitful life 
of Paul, but we must try to understand what it taught 


From the very first he saw clearly a distinction to 
which the Twelve did not willingly consent and resign 
themselves nor were they able to comprehend it as he 
did. I mean the difference between the " God-fearers" 
who were very ready to believe in the "Lord" and the 
majority of the born Jews who closed their ears and 
hardened their hearts if the disciples sought to con- 
vince them. "Were they, as a consequence, to abandon 
these born Jews to their folly and deliberately to carry 
the truth to the people outside of Israel? It was easy 
to foresee that besides the proselytes who, at any rate, 
were "Judaizing" pagans who were full Gentiles would 
adopt the faith; could they be accepted, and prom- 
ised a share in the Kingdom? Were these strangers, 
ignorant of the Law of Moses, to be made co-heirs with 
the people of JahveM It is easy to imagine that the 
Twelve, who were thoroughly imbued with Jesus' own 

100 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

teaching and still so profoundly Jewish, would never 
accept such conclusions without the very greatest reluc- 
tance. Paul imposed these conclusions on them because 
he knew how to draw up convincing arguments based on 
the success of his first mission in Asia Minor, and the 
brethren at Jerusalem believed that the guidance of the 
Spirit was recognizable in the work of the thirteenth 
Apostle. While the congregation in Jerusalem was poor, 
the churches founded by Paul often had some wealthy 
and generous members among their number, and the 
Apostle knew how to induce them to aid the Mother 
Church. And furthermore, why should they not recog- 
nize the value of preaching that had spread abroad in 
so many different places the name of the glorified Christ 1 ? 

The principle that Gentiles were to be admitted once 
granted, it was expedient to make the application of it 
easy. Paul knew that circumcision was displeasing to 
the Greeks and that most of the " works" of the Law 
did not suit either their customs or their way of thinking. 
He was not slow in persuading himself that the Law was 
superseded by the teaching of Christ, who had come 
indeed expressly to substitute a new covenant for the 
former one. The Twelve yielded to him again and con- 
sented to absolve Gentile converts from the demands of 
Jewish legalism. Thus implicitly Christianity was 
separated from Judaism and an impetus given it to 
become an original religion. 

Paul's Christology, teeming with Hellenistic views, 
made this result inevitable, by modifying very consider- 
ably the significance of both the life and death of Jesus 
to the Twelve. The Apostle soon perceived that the 
Messianic hope did not interest the Greeks; it was, as 
a matter of fact, only intelligible in conjunction with 
the nationalistic hopes of the Jews. For it to become 
acceptable to the Gentiles, it was absolutely necessary 
to enlarge its scope, and by combining with it a con- 
ception familiar to the doctrine of the pagan Mysteries, 
to present a changed Christ. He was no longer to be 
thought of as a man armed with the power of Jahveh in 


order to raise the chosen people out of their misery 
and put their oppressors under their feet, but rather as 
the messenger of God charged to bring salvation to all 
men, the certainty of a future life of bliss in which the 
soul, above all, would experience the complete fulfilment 
of its destiny. Moreover, Paul realized also that the 
Gentile converts would not readily be reconciled to 
retaining ''the scandal of the Cross.' ' To the ignomini- 
ous death of Jesus, upon which unbelievers did not fail to 
lay stress, an explanation would have to be given that 
would suffice to turn it from a drawback into something 
more acceptable. The Apostle meditated upon this two- 
fold problem, already propounded and probably well 
defined in the community of the Dispersion where he 
found it, and he decided upon a solution of incalculable 
significance. Wholly indifferent to the Nazarene so dear 
to the Twelve, he resolved to know the Crucified alone, 
whom he would portray as a divine personality, in 
existence before the beginning of the world, a kind of 
incarnation of the Spirit of God, a * 'celestial man" long 
retained in reserve as it were, in heaven beside God, and 
at last come down to earth to institute a veritably new 
humanity, of which he would be the Adam. 

The necessary links in all this chain of speculation 
came to the Apostle, probably unsought, by a spontaneous 
flash of memory or turn of thought, from a certain 
number of the common ceremonials of the Mysteries. 
It is the hermetic or sealed books, i.e., books produced 
and carefully guarded by these Mysteries themselves, 
which throw most light upon the Christological doctrine 
of Paul as I have just sketched it. 

It culminated, if I may say so, in an expression which is 
somewhat surprising to us : The Lord Jesus is presented 
to us as the Son of God, Now, for Paul, God is a Jewish 
heritage ; it follows, therefore, that the monotheism of the 
Israelite is impressed upon his mind a priori and abso- 
lutely. This God is the Most High God, entirely distinct 
from Nature, and remains indispersed in Nature by any 
tendency to pantheism. Then how can it be imagined that 

102 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

he should have a son, or, if you will, how are we to 
understand the relation of son to father which Paul per- 
ceives between the Lord and God? 

At first the inclination would be to believe that all 
there is here is a question of figure of speech, a symbol. 
The Jews gave the name of " Servant of Jahveh" (Ebed 
Jahveh) to every man who might be deemed "inspired" 
by him. The Greek of the Septuagint often rendered 
this expression by the words Ttcfiq tou ©sou, the word 
Ttofiq meaning, like the Latin puer, both "servant" and 
"child." The transition from xcag (child) to u\6q 
(son) creates no difficulty and is, as a matter of fact, 
effected in Judeo-Christian writings such as the Acts and 
the Pauline Epistles. 2 But a careful examination of the 
passages in the Epistles of Paul proves that his thought 
goes far beyond this paltry verbal ambiguity. To be 
sure of this the well-known text in the Epistle to the 
Romans (viii. 32) needs only to be recalled, where it is 
written that God ' ' spared not his own Son, but delivered 
him up for us all." Nevertheless, we must not forget 
that Paul, just because he does not yet suspect the 
innumerable theological difficulties that this conception 
of the Son of God holds in reserve for the future, may 
very possibly not use the expression in its literal sense, 
but as a roundabout way of denoting, as well as one can, 
by implication in an analogy taken from humanity, a 
"superhuman" relation for which he had no adequate 
terms at his command. 

Any confusion of the Lord with God must be avoided 
at all events; for Paul it would be inconceivable, since 
he has as yet no inkling of the Trinity. The Lord is 
dependent upon God (I Cor. iii. 23) and obeys him "even 
unto death" (Phil. ii. 8), being subject unto him in all 
things (I Cor. xv. 28). The whole question seems to be 
regulated by the passage in I Cor. viii. 6, which I subjoin. 

8 Cf. Acts iii. 13. 26 ; iv. 27, 30 ; Didache, or Teaching of the Twelve 
Apostles iv. 2 ; x. 2 ; I Clem. lvix. 2 et seq. ; etc. The expression "Son of 
God" appears in the Acts once only (ix. 20) and there it is given as a 
characteristic feature of Paul's teaching, which is certainly a note- 
worthy point. 


" . . . Yet to us there is one God, the Father, of whom 
are all things, and we unto him; and one Lord Jesus 
Christ, through whom are all things, and we through 
him." Thus, however essential and necessary the coop- 
eration of the Lord in the works of God may be, the Lord 
is not the equal of God. He is the representative of his 
Spirit, for in II Cor. iii. 17 it is plainly stated: "The 
Lord is the Spirit." Paul is not able to put forth any 
form of words which brings these supreme titles, "Lord" 
and ' ' God, ' ' closer together. The relation in his mind 
between them is the same intimate relation expressed 
by him in the language of humanity when he affirms that 
the Lord is the Son of God, without the expression actu- 
ally warranting the supposition that a theory in the 
absolute sense of the analogy is intended. 

Strictly speaking, it must be said that for Paul the 
Lord, by himself, represents one of the categories of 
creation, the nearest of all to God, and. one which may 
be qualified as divine. On the other hand, it is very 
certain that from this time the dogma of the divinity 
of Christ is on its way, since the Pauline idea seems too 
indefinite and incomplete to remain stable. And it is in 
the direction of the identification of the Lord with God 
that the piety of the believers, heedless of difficulties, will 
steadfastly lead the faith on. 

Without laying further stress, for it is not in order 
here, upon theological conceptions, the more complex 
because on more than one point they are somewhat 
uncertain, enough has been said to show what Jesus the 
Nazarene became under the influence of the myths of 
intercession and of salvation familiar to the Pauline 
milieu, and what the Apostle made him out to be in the 
light of his rabbinical theodicy. Behold he is changed 
into the all-accomplishing agent of God, prior to time 
and to the world, the incarnation of the Holy Spirit — 
who, if we may put it thus, constitutes the divine prin- 
ciple of his being — charged with the execution of God's 
great design for the regeneration and the salvation of 

104 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

His death in this way became clearly intelligible: all 
men had crumpled under the weight of their sins. 
They were unable to right themselves and face the 
divine light. Christ had been willing to offer them the 
required means ; he took their guilt upon him and expi- 
ated their sins through his death of ignominy. Then, 
that they might share in his accomplishment and find 
grace in the day of judgment, it was expedient first of 
all for them to effect a union with himself through faith 
and love. Thus this pretense of a stumbling block 
became the great mystery, the supreme end and aim of 
the mission of Jesus, and Paul was right in saying that 
all there was to his preaching was " Christ crucified." 3 
The Greeks understood and were moved by it, and, in 
itself it insisted on nothing that could not be accepted 
by the Twelve. While it left them the full delight of 
their living memories of him, it exalted the glory of 
their Master yet higher than they had done. Even so, 
it entirely changed the perspective and the purport of 
his commission. At the same time, it laid the founda- 
tions of a boundless doctrinal speculation, more than for- 
eign, antipathetic even to the Palestine milieu in which 
Christ had lived. Less verbose and complicated and, in 
a word, less extravagant than the great syncretistic sys- 
tems with which, in the second century a.d., Basilides' 
and Valentinus' names will be connected, Paul's doctrine 
opened the way to these; it was already a syncretistic 
gnosis, a composite revelation. 


The pagans who came to the Christian faith by way of 
the synagogues, or those who directly exchanged their 
former beliefs for it, lived in a milieu in which a religion 
without rites could scarcely be conceived. The most 
moving of these rites centered about the idea of purifica- 
tion and the notion of sacrifice: (a) the sacrificial expia- 
tion designed to appease the divine wrath; (b) the sacri- 

8 I Cor. 1, 23. Cf. I Cor. 1, IS; "O X6yo? y*P & T0 ° o^aupou. 


ficial offering, intended to secure the favor of the god; 
or (c) the sacrificial communion, through which the fol- 
lowers of a divinity could effect a union with it and indi- 
cate that they formed one body in its sight. The Twelve, 
devout Jews as they were, showed themselves assidu- 
ous in the Temple service and certainly did not deem 
any other form of worship necessary ; they did, however, 
attach peculiar importance to baptismal purification, the 
acceptance of which, in the Gentile congregations, became 
the sign of conversion. At the same time, when they 
assembled in the house of one or another of the brethren, 
they " broke bread together." This act, usual at meals in 
Israel and probably performed by Jesus at such times as 
he ate with the Apostles, was already assuming in their 
eyes the significance of a symbol of union ; union among 
themselves and union with Christ. But everything inclines 
to the belief that they had not yet established any rela- 
tionship between this ''breaking of bread" and the death 
of Christ ; neither did they attribute any degree of sacra- 
mental value to it, nor relate the institution or the repeti- 
tion of it to a request of their Master. 

Paul felt the necessity of discovering the deep under- 
lying significance of this custom. He found what he 
sought by linking it indissolubly with the drama of the 
redeeming Passion, and sowing in its prepared soil the 
fertile concept — seeds of a sacrifice of atonement and of 
communion — he turned it into the accomplishment of a 
great mystery, the memorial and the living symbol, longed 
for by Jesus himself, of the work of the cross. In I Cor. 
xi. 23 and the following verses we are told : ' ' The Lord 
Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread : 
and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, This 
is my body, which is for you ; this do in remembrance of 
me. In like manner also the cup, after supper, saying, 
This cup is the new covenant in my blood : this do, as oft 
as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as 
ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the 
Lord's death till he come." Never had any rite of the 
pagan Mysteries been charged with more significance, 

106 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

nor with more seductive hopes than the Pauline Euchar- 
ist, but it belonged to their species, and not in any way 
to the Jewish spirit; it introduced into the Apostolic 
Church " a bit of paganism. ' ' Again, however, the Chris- 
tians accepted it, because its consequence to their faith 
was a considerable inflation and it proved the primary 
basis of a vast theological speculation, the mother of 
many important dogmas. 

At the same time the rite of baptism assumes an 
equally profound significance. "For as many of you as 
were baptized unto Christ," writes Paul (Gal. iii. 27) 
"did put on Christ," which means that by baptism the 
Christian becomes conformed to Christ. I stress these 
words because Paul has never ventured to say that 
baptism makes of the Christian a Christ, as the tauro- 
bolium made the devotee of Cybele an Attis. But the 
idea upheld by this baptism really moves in principle 
on the same plane as that which makes good the pre- 
tensions of the taurobolium. By baptism the Christian 
"puts on Christ," a sacred garment, as it were, of salva- 
tion; his descent into death is symbolized by his plunge 
into the river or into the baptismal pool; he rises up 
out of it after three immersions, as Christ rose from the 
tomb on the third day, and is henceforth assured that he, 
too, one day shall be glorified, God willing, as Christ has 

I cannot repeat too often that all this did not originate 
with Paul. The Hellenist Churches preceding his con- 
version, and before them, perhaps, groups of Jewish 
syncretists and gnostics, had prepared his materials and 
stated the main themes covered by his speculations. This 
is why it is an exaggeration to maintain that he was 
the real founder of Christianity. The real founders of 
Christianity were the men who established the Church 
of Antioch, and we scarcely know the names of any of 
them. But, not only was Paul's share in these begin- 
nings far more ample and well defined, but he also has 
the undoubted advantage over them that he was fully 
conscious of his share and of its import. He did not 


found Christianity, if by founding the adaptation of 
Jewish messianism to Hellenist salvationism is meant, 
but he seems to have contributed more than anyone else 
toward determining the metes and bounds of this adapta- 
tion. While guarding against the too favorable opinions 
that he would give us of his own part in the matter, 
therefore, we may yet believe that, without him, Chris- 
tianity would have been something other than its his- 
torical self. 



In yielding to the force of circumstances Paul rendered 
it pliable to his speculative genius. Accepting in advance 
the cleavage between Christianity and Judaism which 
circumstances showed him to be inevitable, he had a 
doctrine all made to explain and account for it. But in 
any case the reactions of the Grecian milieu upon its 
thought and practice could not be avoided by the Chris- 
tian faith as soon as it emigrated from Palestine, and 
this, as we have learned, had already occurred before 
Paul's day. It was particularly fatal that there should 
be applied to it in the Greek world the exegetical pro- 
cesses by which the Jews of Alexandria reconciled the 
Law of Moses with current philosophy. He was of the 
line of Philo, this unknown Asian who made the state- 
ment in the prologue to the Fourth Gospel, that Jesus 
the Messiah had been an earthly incarnation of the 
Logos, the Word of God, the executive agency of Jahveh, 
according to Alexandrine exegetics, and coeternal with 
Him. 2 This was a staggering proposition, for nothing 
less would content it than to identify the Crucified with 
a direct manifestation of God, i.e., in sound logic, with 
God Himself. It was also blasphemous to a Jew, who 
could not even conceive that the Divine Infinity, which 
he dared not name lest he should seem to be putting 

1 R. Knopf, Das nachapostolische Zeitalter (Tubingen, 1905) ; G. 
Hoennicke, Das Judenchristentum (Berlin, 190S). There is a copious 
general bibliography given in G. B. Smith's A Guide, pp. 324 et seq. 

2 John i. 14 : "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and 
we beheld his glory, glory such as an only son enjoys from his father." 
We give Moffatt's rendering as more nearly approaching the Greek. 
The Greek Logos is translated in the New Testament by the "Word," or 
the "Saying." 



restrictions on it, should be enclosed within the narrow 
confines of a human body. But it was a proposition 
easy to reconcile with Paul's Christology, or, rather, 
closely allied to it, when the Apostle's fundamental 
declaration is recalled that "the Lord is the Spirit." 
Moreover, it was very seductive to a Greek and very 
much in accord with the profound longing of a faith 
which, through its persistent tendency to exalt the 
personality of Jesus, felt forced, almost unbeknow- 
ing to itself, to bring God and him nearer and nearer 

Without yet foreseeing all the consequences these 
blendings and inflations would have upon the faith of the 
Twelve, the Jewish Christians did not accept them all 
with a good grace. First they were discontented, 
because by passing it around so freely the precious priv- 
ilege of being "heirs of the Kingdom," which they 
believed peculiarly theirs was becoming depreciated, 
and ceasing almost to be a distinction. They disliked 
these changes because they were Jews and intended to 
remain so, as they knew their Master had been. They 
therefore opposed Paul stoutly, even in the congrega- 
tions he himself established. Even after the Twelve had 
fellowshiped him as an Apostle side by side with them- 
selves and had apparently given in to the concessions 
he demanded for his own converts, they assumed the 
right to withdraw some of them which occasionally 
caused him embarrassment. Powerful invectives were 
hurled at him from the ranks of the legalists, and his 
letters to the Corinthians and the Galatians, however 
obscure their contents remain to us in detail, at least 
afford a clear impression of the hostility of these men 
who, had they been able, would have had him branded 
a heretic and an impostor. Much later specimens of 
Christian literature — such as the writings attributed 
to Clement Romanus, who lived toward the end of the 
first century a.d. — still bear traces of these polemics. 

The theology of the Johannine prologue was also the 
object of stubborn protests. Nevertheless, toward the 

110 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

end of the Apostolic age it would certainly have been 
possible to foresee clearly which tendency would obtain 
in the future. 

From that time, in fact, the Christians were obliged 
to admit that the return of the Lord, the parousia, which 
was certainly long delayed, might not take place for some 
years yet. Although they continued to refer to his 
return, they no longer lived upon the expectation of it, 
and little by little it ceased to occupy the central place 
in the Christian faith which had at first been given to it. 
Moreover, the eschatological cataclysm with which it 
was entwined did not appeal to the imagination of the 
Greco-Romans in the same way as it did to the Jews. 
Their former philosophical dualism and their leaning 
toward spiritualism made impossible for them complete 
sympathy with a belief in the resurrection of the flesh, 
or the material aspects of the Messianic Kingdom, upon 
which Jewish thought loved to dwell. Since the Gentile 
converts formed by far the majority of the membership, 
and Christian propaganda had no chance of success save 
among the Gentile nations, that which was shortly to 
be known as the "rule of faith" had to be formulated 
and developed in conformity with their aspirations. 
Since St. Paul's propositions, or those of the Fourth 
Evangelist, 3 corresponded with their unconscious wishes, 
Christological speculation, it can readily be imagined, 
which already had passed the bounds set by the tenets of 
the Twelve, would but be amplified still further and 
henceforward retain the chief place in the Christian 

At the same time, too, the break between the Church 
and the Synagogue was actually effected, and the fol- 
lowers of Jesus began to speak of the Jews in terms 
which would certainly have surprised the Master. Soon 
they will deny them all knowledge of the Truth and even 

8 The kinship between Johannism and Paulinism is evident, so much 
so that it has been possible to maintain that if we possessed the 
Gospel according to Paul, it would certainly closely resemble the fourth 
Gospel. Cf. B. W. Bacon, The Fourth Gospel in Research and Debate 


of the Mosaic Law.* The Christian congregations that 
look up to the Apostles and their Jewish disciples (them- 
selves recruited from among men who practiced Juda- 
ism) remain small and poor. They still exist in Syria, 
in Egypt, and possibly in Borne, but they are swamped 
by the great churches . filled with deserters from pagan- 
ism. In their effort to keep loyal to the teaching which 
they have received from those who have known the Lord, 
they expose themselves to the accusation from the oppo- 
site camp of thinking meanly about him, and the hour 
draws near in which the majority party of Christians 
will refuse them the right to claim any share in salvation. 
Toward 160 a.d. St. Justin writes that Christians who 
continue to observe Jewish practices will, in his opinion, 
be saved, on condition that they do not seek to impose 
their practices on others, but he adds that many Chris- 
tians would not brush shoulders with them. 5 In reality, 
the Greco-Roman Christians no longer feel themselves 
allied to Israel; and to that Law, of which Christ had 
said that he would not change a jot or tittle, they give 
a purely symbolical interpretation. 

Still, in this same period, the Christian congregations, 
now that they have definitely separated from the syna- 
gogues, have already begun to organize their community 
life. First of all they choose temporal administrators, 
deputized to watch over their material interests and 
maintain order within the fold, whilst the Holy Spirit 
raises up inspired men to sustain and spread the faith. 
Later, when they begin to feel the need of more stabilized 
practices, and take exception more or less to the initia- 
tive of these inspired members, they try to regularize 
the administration of these spiritual interests. And 
when the generation which has known the Apostles 
becomes extinct, possibly the monarchic episcopate is 
born : in any case, it will be born soon. 

4 The epistle known as The Epistle of Barnabas, violently anti- 
Jewish, is apparently a brief Alexandrine writing of 117-130 a.d. ; but, 
possibly more than fifty years earlier, to the Syrian author of the 
Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, the Jews are already the "hypocrites." 

6 Dialogue with Trypho 47. 

112 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

In other words, at the beginning of the second cen- 
tury after Christ, Christianity already presents itself 
to its world as an independent religion, lacking cohesion 
certainly, and with its rites, dogmas and institutions 
still in a very elementary state, yet nevertheless per- 
fectly conscious that it is not to be confused any longer 
with Judaism. It has already traveled very far from 
the ideas both of Jesus and of the Twelve. From now 
onward it will claim to offer all men, without distinction 
of race or condition, the Life Eternal. 


We know that the Greco-Roman terrain, at the time 
when the Christian hope was transplanted thither, by 
no means resembled a blank tablet. It was already pro- 
ducing a conception of religion, somewhat incoherent, it 
is true — since it varied with the individual in the objects 
to which it was related, or, on the other hand, sought to 
bring into juxtaposition many dissimilar objects — but at 
any rate alive, and by no means inclined to allow itself 
to be uprooted without protest. Among the ignorant, 
by whom it was very often confounded with superstition, 
this conception of religion succeeded in resting firmly 
upon a multitude of customs and prejudices almost 
impossible to dislodge. In more enlightened spheres, it 
could also count upon the force of habit, and in addition it 
received strong support from the intellectual training in 
vogue. From one end of the Empire to the other, children 
were subject to the same formative influences in the 
schools ; there they were taught the same reasoning pro- 
cesses, given the same general culture, and their religious 
conceptions were necessarily molded in relation to these. 

Let us notice at the start, for this is a point of capital 
importance, that culture at the time of the Caesars was 
almost exclusively literary. Ehetoric, one of the two 
courses of study which a well-educated young man would 
pursue to complete his mental equipment, claimed but to 
teach him the art of putting ideas and words together. 


Philosophy, the other of the two, which aimed to unveil 
the world to him, give him the meaning of life and estab- 
lish the principles and rules of morality, was not sup- 
ported by any exact science. The import of experimental 
demonstration which the Greek mind had formerly pos- 
sessed had been lost. So men would repeat as proved 
truths numerous absurdities which a moment's careful 
examination would at once have overthrown. On the one 
hand, an inchoate empiricism, and, on the other, pseudo- 
doctrines of physics, absolutely in the air — such was, in 
sum, the natural science of those days. This explains why 
philosophy, rich in moral ideas that were correct, 
ingenious, even eloquent, but having no roots in reality, 
was broken up into various systems of metaphysics, inter- 
esting as intellectual combinations, but purely arbitrary. 
Moreover, since they had been long established by Greek 
thinkers, they were now reduced to scarcely more than 
themes upon which the ' 'masters" executed more or less 
individual variations. Fairly enough because they 
remained aloof from experimentally verified facts these 
themes could easily be transposed and in this way take 
on developments which were quite foreign to the 
thought of their original authors. Philo, for instance, 
had mated them with the main postulates of the Jewish 
Law; in time the Neoplatonists will draw from them a 
species of revealed religion ; again, the Christian doctors 
of Alexandria will combine them with the assertions of 
their faith, and a fresh system of dogmatics will arise out 
of the mixture. In themselves they proved incapable of 
successful defense against such attempts; but, on the 
other hand, they were so deeply intrenched in the minds 
of educated men, and so universally accepted as truths, 
even by the grossly ignorant, that every interpretation 
of the world or of human life and destiny, and every 
religion, had to reckon with them. 

Let us note also that Christianity, though introduced 
to the Greco-Roman world in the first century after 
Christ, had not taken firm root there until the second, 
nor did it show signs of extensive growth until the third. 

114 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

Now, that which we call public opinion had not stood 
still and remained in the same position with regard to 
philosophical and religious matters during all that time ; 
while still continuing to be different in the honestiores 
and in the humiliores, it was modified in both spheres. 
If Christianity made such strides in the third century, 
there is reason to think that the modification to which 
public opinion was subjected was in line with its own 

At the time when the Empire succeeds the Eepublic, 
the official religion of the Greco-Romans is already a syn- 
cretism, or a combination which was made after the con- 
quest by Rome of the Grecianized East, and composed 
of the gods of the conquerors and of the conquered. 
Educated men no longer have any faith in it, but they 
respect it in public and, when forced, take part in its 
rites. They do this because they continue to believe 
religion obligatory upon the common people, whose dan- 
gerous appetites and instincts it holds in check. They 
uphold it also because they do not forget that the ancient 
City formerly relied upon it and that the fruitful efforts 
of their predecessors were sustained by it. In so far as 
it is peculiarly Roman, they regard it as the visible bond 
which unites Roman citizens with each other. According 
to their individual tastes, their more or less pronounced 
scepticism demands from the doctrines of the various 
schools of philosophy a supply of the metaphysical sus- 
tenance they cannot do without: usually they favor 
Stoicism or Epicureanism. As for those of humbler con- 
dition, they remain devoted to the lesser deities and to 
sorcerers. The mysterious, mystic and voluptuous reli- 
gions of the East, however, already implanted in the 
Empire, slowly thrive there. In his scheme for the 
restoration of the State, Augustus contemplated the com- 
plete reestablishment of the Roman religion. But if he 
believed it possible at the same time to oblige people 
who still possessed any religious feeling to confine it 
within the forms of the past, or to restore the faith of 
those who had lost it, he was the victim of a singular 


illusion. Whatever he thought about it, he only suc- 
ceeded in reestablishing in their entirety the temple rites 
and the temples ; and equally he enhanced the civic value 
of the official rites. True patriotism, or even bare 
loyalty, henceforward implied reverent devotion to the 
divinity of the Emperor (numen Augusti) and to the 
goddess Rome. 

Such a religion consisted of simply a few ceremonies ; 
it was devoid of any theology or any real dogma, and 
could not pretend to afford sustenance to religious senti- 
ment possessing a fair amount of vigor. Now, it hap- 
pened that the impulse of the East, which the paucity of 
scientific knowledge favored, and the influence of the ills 
of all kinds which tested and perturbed mankind from the 
time of Tiberius to that of Nerva, against which Stoicism 
protected but a select few, restored sentiment to an 
increasingly large place in the Greco-Roman conscious- 
ness. Its scope enlarged and it became much more 
imperious than in the past. Even among the enlightened, 
scepticism was not long in experiencing inundation by 
profound aspirations toward a deeply religious life, and 
Stoicism rapidly gave way before Platonism, which was 
more plastic and could be more easily charged with 
religiousness. If it is somewhat of an exaggeration to 
say that Marcus Aurelius was the last of the Stoics, it is 
true that the end of his reign marks the complete deca- 
dence of the doctrine upon which the noble emperor had 
just shed supreme luster ; henceforward the pagan world 
is ripe for devotion. The advent, with Septimus Severus 
and his family, of African and Syrian princes, and the 
dominion of women imbued with the mystic piety of the 
East, favored the prompt development of fervor, and the 
third century experienced all forms of it, from the most 
grossly material, closely allied to pure superstition, to 
the most refined, the creations of philosophical reflection 
henceforward inclining toward the divine. The state 
religions, following the formula known throughout 
antiquity, were reduced to the single religion of the 
emperor, now that the nationalities, formerly autonomous 

116 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

occupants of the territory now conquered by Eome, have 
been absorbed by her ; the most vital religious sentiment 
henceforward gave itself up solely to the salvation of the 

All the creeds and all the cults then had their adher- 
ents, who molded them to their intense desire for a future 
of eternal bliss in a mysterious hereafter. From this 
conglomerate of religious material, each man's piety 
carved out for itself a religion that fitted it ; and usually, 
in constructing its creed and its form of worship, com- 
bined its statement of belief with rites of varied origin. 

From the first century Christianity was labeled an 
Eastern religion, at once mystic and practical, since on 
the one hand it rested upon divine revelation and prom- 
ised eternal salvation through an all-powerful Mediator, 
and on the other it claimed to establish upon earth a new 
life, wholly loving and virtuous. Its chance, therefore, 
was a likely one of pleasing men who passionately 
cherished the very desires of which it promised the 
realization. Nevertheless its exclusiveness must have 
been an obstacle to its success before it rendered it 
secure. It was apparently hostile to all forms of syn- 
cretism. However, its dogma and its practice were still 
very simple, and therefore very plastic, and it could 
accept and assimilate, almost unconsciously, the most 
essential of the religious aspirations and ritual observ- 
ances which it would encounter upon Grecian soil. I will 
go further : it was unable to avoid them, and in the third 
century it could meet and overcome the entire pagan 
syncretism, because it had itself become a syncretism in 
which all the fertile ideas and the essential rites of pagan 
religiousness were blended. It combined and harmonized 
them in a way that enabled it to stand alone, facing all 
the inchoate beliefs and practices of its adversaries with- 
out appearing their inferior on any vital point. 

This extensive work of absorption, which helps us to 
understand that a moment came when Christianity was 
able to arouse favorable attention to itself on the part of 
the manifold sympathies active in the Greco-Roman 


world, was accomplished slowly. It went on always in 
connection with the ascent of the faith through the 
various strata of pagan society, in which, as we have 
just said, the religious mentality never everywhere bore 
the same stamp at the same time. The Christian faitH 
will acquire something from each of the social grades, 
and to all she will owe that kind of hierarchy which in 
fact still exists in the Church. It is observable from the 
very moment that Christian dogma began to establish 
itself, and leads by an imperceptibly easy ascent from 
the simplest faith of the ignorant classes to the philo- 
sophical belief of the intellectuals. 

Themselves men of the lower orders, it was to Gentiles 
of the lower orders that the first Christian preachers 
addressed themselves. To tell the truth, it was among 
them that the consoling, fraternal and all-leveling doc- 
trine of the humble brethren had the best chance to be 
well received. We must not exaggerate, however: Paul 
and his disciples preached to the Jewish proselytes, and 
they were not all humiliores ; in their ranks were included 
many women of the upper classes and certainly, too, some 
men; we have reason to believe that several were won 
over to the faith. It remains no less true that until the 
time of the Antonines the honestiores never formed more 
than an infinitesimal minority in the Church : slaves and 
day-laborers constituted her main force. In those days 
every new convert became one more unit on the roll of 
Christian missionaries, Christianity continued to find its 
recruits especially among the humiliores. But by means 
of the slaves it reached free women, their mistresses, and 
it accidentally attracted the attention of some of the 
learned men engaged in the quest for divine truth. 
Thanks to the former it crept into the higher classes, and 
thanks to the latter it came in contact with philosophy, in 
the course of the second century, and the ramifications 
of that encounter were incalculable. 

Men like Justin, Tatian and Tertullian came to embrace 
Christianity because their conversion was the logical 
outcome of an inner crisis. They housed within them- 

118 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

selves aspirations which philosophy alone could not 
satisfy, problems which it could not solve ; and the Chris- 
tian faith answered these problems and abundantly ful- 
filled these aspirations. Nevertheless, even if such men 
from the day upon which they became Christians 
renounced all their former opinions, they could not rid 
themselves of their education, their ways of thinking, 
their methods of reasoning, their intellectual and philo- 
sophical acquirements. Whether they realized it clearly 
or only perceived it dimly, the religion of their adoption 
seemed to lack something, not in its substance, which they 
deemed as unfathomable as Infinity, but in its formula- 
tions. So when it came their turn to speak for it, they 
were irresistibly drawn toward endowing it with the 
attractions of a revealed philosophy. Its apologetics or 
propaganda they strengthened, so to speak, by putting 
the methods of their schools at its service, and its dog- 
matics were reenforced with reflections and interpreta- 
tions suggested by their previous metaphysical convic- 
tions when they began to turn the postulates of Chris- 
tianity over in their minds. 

Naturally, however, open as the Christianity of the 
post- Apostolic age would be to influences of such a nature 
through the fluidness of its dogmatics, and flexible as 
it would have been rendered by the Pauline and Johan- 
nine speculative thought, it had not foreseen these devel- 
opments nor did it possess any means of sifting and more 
sharply defining them. For this reason their first efforts 
to work them over were marked as much by disorder 
as by intenseness. Some time necessarily elapsed before 
the main body of the membership, always tardy in arriv- 
ing at a clear consciousness of the real situation, sensed 
the fact that they were driving the faith in two very dif- 
ferent directions. 


The one movement tended to borrow from Hellenist 
culture all of its ideas that were capable of rendering the 
early Christian doctrine at once more profound and more 


beautiful. It is evident that this process of assimilation 
cared little about scrupulous exactitude, and neither did 
it always find itself in complete accord with logic or 
reality. The same was true of its documents. At any 
rate, its intention was reassuring. It only sought to 
establish a working agreement between the demands of 
its fundamental postulates and the most important prin- 
ciples of Greek thought. If the one modified the other to 
such an extent that they shortly became unrecognizable, 
the blending proceeded slowly enough to prevent shock. 
Moreover, it was effected in conformity with the more 
or less conscious aspirations of the mass of believers. 
Had anyone come and told the Twelve that Jesus was an 
incarnation of God, at first they would have failed to 
catch his meaning ; then they would have cried out against 
it with horror. But they probably accepted what Paul 
told them concerning him, i.e., that he had been a celestial 
man and even the incarnation of the Spirit, the Pneuma 
of God. This was the first stage of an inflation that the 
faith ardently desired, which would gradually in the end 
bring about complete assimilation of the Christ with God. 
This movement, of which orthodox belief was the out- 
come, did not pursue a direct and well-defined path; it 
wavered, and often lost its way in speculations which the 
faith of the ordinary man did not accept; it did not 
readily find the exact idea or formula which suited it, 
but — and this is the main point — it never deliberately 
attempted to settle upon a combination between any 
pagan ideas whatsoever and the Christian postulates. 
To put it differently, and perhaps preferably, the infla- 
tions borrowed from Hellenist culture that it selected 
and fitted into the system were treated as properties of 
these postulates even in that wonderful School of Alex- 
andria of which Origen was the pride, which completed 
the masterpiece : the metamorphosis of Christianity into 
a revealed and perfect philosophy. 

The other movement, known to Christianity from the 
second century and possibly even earlier, sets out from a 
different starting point. It, too, seeks to inflate the too 

120 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

simple confession of faith of the early days and to exca- 
vate deeper foundations for it. It can accomplish this 
purpose only by combining it with beliefs and theories 
borrowed from its surroundings. But, in the first place, 
it shows no discrimination in its choice, which settles 
upon numerous features widely different in nature: the 
Olympic paganism, Orphism, diverse Oriental religions, 
systems of philosophy — everything is gathered into its 
net. In the second place, it takes no interest in recon- 
ciling what it borrows with the historical data, or even 
with the traditions of the faith. Instead it pretends to 
possess a special revelation of its own which it uses to 
justify most anomalous combinations of ideas that con- 
stitute real syncretistic systems, in which true Chris- 
tianity appears as only one more element. It becomes 
almost unrecognizable as part of a complicated cos- 
mogony and an abstruse system of metaphysics, neither 
of which owes anything of value to it. Obviously these 
various gnoses which flourished in the second century 
a.d., appalled the ignorant, and no likelihood existed that 
they would endure, even though converted, as in many 
cases they were, into magic practices more fascinating 
to the vulgar than the arguments of a mystic and sym- 
bolic system of metaphysics. They had their logical 
place, however, in the evolution of Christianity. By this 
I mean that the aspect of its evolution which they repre- 
sent corresponds with what we know of the spirit of the 
times which gave them birth, and that they help us to 
understand them. 

It is not a matter of indifference either that these 
various gnoses should have appeared, or the other 
heresies with which the faith had to struggle before it 
found its rightful place. In most cases, heresies are only 
matters of opinion which have not been accepted, neither 
more nor less strange than those which have established 
themselves. The disputes and discussions which they all 
have provoked have little by little raised and settled all 
points of the orthodox doctrine. They have afforded 
believers an opportunity of scrutinizing and more closely 


determining their own opinions and aspirations. They 
have denned the problems and emphasized the contradic- 
tions which it has been the office of the theologians to 
unravel. These disputes and discussions have done still 
more : they demonstrated the need and an urgent desire 
for a discipline of the faith, a regula fidei, and an author- 
ity which would defend, as well as represent it. In this 
sense the disputes and discussions constitute the most 
influential factor in the formation of the ecclesiastical 
organization and the clerical authority established in the 
second century of the Christian era. 

The other factor must be sought also in the reaction 
of the Greco-Roman milieu upon primitive Christianity, 
a reaction which tends to introduce part or all of the 
pagan ritualism into a worship which was wholly "in 
spirit and in truth," from the very moment when the 
brethren deserted the Jewish Temple. The ritual devel- 
opment of Christianity advances step by step with the 
dogmatic, and by the same process. It began with very 
simple practices, all taken from Judaism: baptism, the 
breaking of bread, the imposition of hands, prayer and 
fasting. Then a meaning more and more profound and 
mysterious was assigned to them. They were amplified, 
and gestures familiar to the pagans added; they were 
loaded with the large interests, for example, em- 
braced in the rites of the Greek and Oriental Mys- 
teries, and thus charged, as it were, with the ancient 
formidable power of magic. This work was initiated as 
soon as the Apostolic faith was transported from Pales- 
tine to Greek soil. We have found that it was already 
greatly advanced, in Paulinism. It was in process unin- 
terruptedly during the whole time that the new religion 
was struggling with its rivals. 

It is sometimes very difficult to tell exactly from which 
pagan rite a particular Christian rite is derived, but it 
remains certain that the spirit of pagan ritualism became 
by degrees impressed upon Christianity, to such an extent 
that at last the whole of it might be found distributed 
through its ceremonies. The necessity for uprooting 

122 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

some of these ancient and very tenacious customs accel- 
erated the assimilation of the remainder which went on 
in the fourth century. Moreover, the power of the clergy 
was singularly enhanced by the almost exclusive right 
which they very early acquired, despite some faltering 
objections, of ordering and dispensing the magic power 
inherent in the rites known as sacraments. 


Contemplate the Christian Church at the beginning of 
the fourth century, therefore, and some difficulty will be 
experienced in recognizing in her the community of 
Apostolic times, or rather, we shall not be able to recog- 
nize it at all. Instead of a small group of Jews separated 
from the majority of their fellows only by a special hope 
and a more indulgent reception of proselytes than was 
accorded to them by the ordinary Israelitish nationalism, 
a vast religious organization now confronts the observer, 
into which enter, without distinction of race or social 
condition, all men of good will, who are together con- 
scious of forming a body, the elect people and the Church 
of Christ. She has rejected Israel, of whom she says off- 
hand that as a nation it has left the way of the Lord and 
wanders in wretchedness far from the truth; she has 
found out how to get rid of the practices of the Jewish 
Law and yet preserve the character of the Old Testament 
as a sacred Book. 8 Upon the tenets of the faith of Israel 
as a foundation she has constructed a new and very com- 
plicated system of dogmatics, in which the central specu- 
lation excels about the person of the Christ, now ele- 
vated even to the point of identification with God. The 
component elements of this system have been drawn 
partly from the work of inflation done by her own reflec- 

6 It seems as if Christianity would have gained by shaking itself 
free of the Jewish Law, and some noteworthy Christians, such as 
Marcion, tried to bring this about; they did not succeed because early 
Christian apologetics, by relying constantly upon the reputation of the 
Biblical text as prophetical, had strengthened the Judeo-Christian ven- 
eration for the Book and authenticated its divine character. 


tions upon the earlier data of her faith, and partly from 
the philosophical and religious doctrines of the Greco- 
Koman milieu. This system of dogmatics as expressed 
in a rule of faith which rests upon the opinion of the 
majority, as interpreted by competent authorities, asks to 
be received as the revealed and perfected system of phi- 
losophy, the ne varietur explanation of the world, life and 
destiny, and theologians devote themselves with ardor to 
fathom and make it self-consistent. 

From another point of view, the Christian Church 
presents herself to us as an established institution ; little 
by little she has been organized in private churches 
modeled upon the Jewish synagogues or the pagan asso- 
ciations. Her administrative and spiritual functions are 
centered in the hands of a body of clergy of hierarchic 
order. The chief of these have adopted a custom of 
deliberating together over all matters concerning faith, 
morals and discipline, and expressing the majority 
opinion in concerted public statements. This order of 
clergy presides over rites which are more or less directly 
borrowed from Judaism or the pagan Mysteries, though 
entirely readapted to Christian uses and reinvested— 
the chief of them, at any rate — with the magic mysterious 
power which the secret cults of Greece and the Orient had 
rendered familiar to the men of those days. In other 
words, Christianity has become a real religion, the most 
complete of them all, because it has taken the best they 
possessed from all of them; the most kindly, the most 
comforting and the most human as well. The ignorant 
man has only uncomprehendingly to believe and unrea- 
soningly to obey the authorities to be assured of eternal 
salvation, and yet the philosopher finds in its dogmas 
ample matter on which to speculate. 

This religion, however, although so profoundly syncre- 
tistic, declares itself invulnerably exclusive; it will not 
share its converts with any other religion ; it tolerates no 
rivals and, until its victory has been assured, this funda- 
mental tendency of its nature has been the occasion of 
the most perilous difficulties; it has especially aroused 

124 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

the animosity of the State as well as that of the whole 
civil community. 

But before attempting to account for the nature, devel- 
opment, extent and issue of this overconfident challenge, 
we must examine more closely and in the light of the facts 
themselves two essential matters which have just been 
presented, as it were, in abstracto: the religion of Christ. 
I mean the religion which regards Christ as its own 
peculiar God and has, in the secular society in which it 
organized itself, created the Christian Church, and, from 
the method of life that it originally was, has become a 
body of doctrine and a system of dogmatics. 



Christ had neither founded nor desired the Church. 
Perhaps this is the most obvious truth forced upon who- 
ever studies the text of the Gospels without prejudice, 
and indeed the contrary position is an absurdity from the 
historical point of view; the utmost ingenuity of theolo- 
gians cannot alter the fact. However incomplete our 
knowledge of Jesus' teaching, it appears primarily as a 
reaction against a rigid legalism and an engrossing 
ritualism. Now it cannot be denied that these are the 
indispensable accompaniment and foundation of all truly 
ecclesiastical systems. Next it appears to be a vigorous 
encouragement to personal effort. The individual 
believer is to mount up to his Father who is in heaven, 
on the ladder of love and faith, no doubt, but also of 
repentance, a sharp and complete break of his evil ways 
and, so to speak, the purging of his conscience as well as 
the stimulation of his will ; and all this is the exact oppo- 
site of ecclesiastical psychasthenia. Moreover, bear in 
mind that Jesus awaited the realization of the Kingdom 
as imminent, and that this hope ought to dismiss from 
his mind all idea of organizing a future upon this present 
earth for his disciples. Finally do not forget that he was 
a Jew who was entirely devoted to the religious Law of 
Israel. When he apparently was opposing it he meant 
only in reality to extend its scope according to that which 
he deemed its true spirit. Whoever recalls these things 
will readily understand why it was that his mind never 

1 Edwin Hatch, The Organization of the Early Christian Churches 
(6th ed., London and New York, 1901) ; A. Ham- 'k, Entstehung und 
Entwickelung der Kirchenverfassung und des Kirchenreehts in- den 
Zioei erst en Jahrhunderten (Leipzig, 1910) ; R. Knopf, Das naeh- 
apostolisehe Zeitalter; A. V. G. Allen, Christian Institutions (Edinburgh, 
1S98), Chaps, i-vii. 


126 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

paused for an instant upon the idea of an organization 
like that which we call the Church. 

If we admit that he gave the Twelve authority — and 
this is still a debatable point — it could have been no more 
than an appointment, in a fashion, of them to preach, as 
he had done, the Kingdom and repentance. He did not 
make priests of them, for truly he had no need of priests. 
Moreover, view these Apostles in action, after the death 
of their Master, and it is plain that none of them had 
any idea either of founding a Church. They remained 
attached to the Jewish faith and practiced its forms of 
worship very devoutly; for them, too, the future meant 
the Kingdom, not the Church. 

The Gospel text never puts into the mouth of Jesus the 
expression "my Church," or even the "Church of the 
Father," except in one passage only, which reads : "Thou 
art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church. . ." 
(Matt. xvi. 18). But a claim to authenticity for this well- 
known and widely exploited verse would seem to be abso- 
lutely untenable unless we are prepared to admit that 
Christ, in a moment of prophetic frenzy, should have 
denied his teaching, his labor, his mission and his very 
self. 2 Gospel passages and relevant facts both prove, up 
to the hilt, that no such primacy of the Apostle Peter, 
which Jesus is reputed to have proclaimed in the text of 
Matthew's Gospel, ever existed. The disciples grouped 
around him and John and "James, the Lord's brother" 
(Gal. i. 19), simply honored and listened to him as a man 
raised in their esteem by the confidence and friendship 
which they had seen shown him by the Master. 

Nevertheless, without desiring it and unknown to them- 
selves, the Apostles laid the foundations of the Church. 
Later, when Apostolic tradition becomes the supreme and 
infallible test of every ecclesiastical verity, that outcome 
will undoubtedly be due somewhat to exaggeration, but 
it will not be pure fiction. This statement requires 

s Ch. Guiguebert, La printouts de Pierre et la venue de Pierre a 
Rome (Paris, 1909), the first three chapters. 


It can be said that the transplantation of the Christian 
hope from Palestine to Greek soil and, if you will, its 
universalization, gave birth to the idea of the Church. 
It is impossible even for men who look on life as preca- 
rious not to feel themselves drawn together and more 
or less one solid body the moment they espouse the 
same hope in regard to their destiny and are obliged 
in order to do so to step out of their previous into a 
different religious setting. Now, the converts of the 
synagogues of the Dispersion are very soon expelled 
by the Jews " whose hearts are hardened," and it is 
the same with the converts among the proselytes. Then 
the pagans who join the faith abandon their old temples 
and all unite in the cult or rites of worship offered to the 
Lord Jesus. While it is certainly a very simple form of 
worship, yet it already includes fraternal gatherings (the 
faithful are known among themselves as " brethren"), 
prayer in common, an initiatory rite called baptism, 
and a rite of communion, both between the initiates (in 
this connection the faithful are known as "saints," a very 
informative term) and with the Lord at his table. Now 
all men who "call upon the name of our Lord Jesus 
Christ" term themselves his "saints" and through him 
are "brethren," wherever they may dwell — all these 
form part of the Church of God. However they may be 
dispersed about the world it means that in his eyes they 
are the assembly of his elect. 

Paul expresses this idea with the greatest clearness. 
When he is speaking of "the Church of God which is in 
Corinth," for instance, we must not understand him to 
refer to an organized congregation, an ecclesiastical com- 
munity established in Corinth, but merely, if I may put 
it thus, the increment belonging to the universal Church 
of God which dwells in that city. I believe I shall make 
myself perfectly understood if I say that the mystic 
idea of the Church as a union in God arises, in the mind 
of a man like Paul, out of the fact that all have experi- 
enced the same initiation. And just as inevitably, it 
arises even before any question has come up of a special 

128 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

ecclesiastical organization. At the very time the Apostle 
is able already to speak of the Church of God, his letters 
testify that the Christian community in Corinth is still 
living in the anarchy of full dependence upon direct 
divine guidance : I mean that it is self-governing and con- 
trolled by the hazardous suggestions of the inspired. 
And we know that the directly inspired are the natural 
enemies of all ecclesiastical orders; it has as yet no 

Such a life can readily be understood during that quite 
early period of enthusiasm and self-deception when Sat- 
urday evenings the "saints" hope that the dawn of the 
morrow will bring the great day of the return, so ardently 
desired, of the Lord. By degrees, however, as weeks, 
months and years go by without this blessed manifesta- 
tion (parousia), the disadvantages of the lack of a gov- 
erning body appear. At the same time, the fraternal 
union among the saints undergoes consolidation, and 
their separation from the rest of the religious world 
raises their hope as believers to the dignity of an auton- 
omous religion. When the time comes that such a local 
group feels obliged to think about organizing its com- 
munity, work on it begins on a plan which is the converse 
of that wrought out in Paul 's mind. Each local group of 
brethren gets formed into a church, and the Church of 
God becomes the sum total of these independent churches, 
which all exchange correspondence, and encourage and 
sustain each other. Therefore, the Church tends, first of 
all, to be no longer only a mystic expression of reality, 
but also a fact which might be termed corporeal; then 
too, although in a more remote but inevitable future, she 
tends, in so far as she is this kind of general fact, to 
seek for herself a corporeal realization and an organiza- 
tion to consecrate it. 

Take a stand, for instance, at the beginning of the 
second century, and we shall perceive that the Pauline 
conception of the union of all Christians in God is well 
established. It is upheld by the conviction that there 
is indeed only one true doctrine of salvation com- 


mon to them all, and its unassailable foundation is to 
be sought in the "Apostolic tradition." It is generally 
admitted that the depositories of this tradition are the 
"Apostolic churches," i.e., those which are reputed to 
trace their history back to the initiative of an Apostle. 
As a matter of fact the Church is still but the fraternity 
dispersed among the separate churches ; but it is averred 
that the Christians do not like men who live in isolation. 
As much for the consolidation of their doctrine as for 
the offering of a united front to the enemies who menace 
them, they possess a group mind. Accordingly, they 
cannot conceive how any local church, entirely inde- 
pendent and mistress of her own destiny though she 
may be, should live and prosper in a state of isolation 
with regard to the rest of the churches, any more than 
they could understand why a "brother" should separate 
himself from the congregation of the city in which he 
dwells. The Christian fraternity, the Church of God, 
has not yet been subjected to the organization which 
is to materialize her, however, and an outside observer, 
a pagan, would still perceive only local churches. 


The origin of these local "churches" themselves is 
also somewhat obscure. To obtain as accurate an idea 
of it as possible, we must first rid our minds of the 
Catholic conception of uniformity, regularity, fixity. 
Between one congregation and another there were for 
some long time fairly important differences, and although 
they did finally all evolve in the same direction, their 
progress was not uniform. 

There is no need to look very far for causes which 
bring men together who are attached to the same faith : 
religious fraternities were of the very spirit and prac- 
tice of antiquity. The necessity of presenting a united 
front to Jewish hostility, which very soon showed itself 
active, and the difficulty of making a living, which was 
very pressing among the numerous poor whom the Chris- 

130 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

tian hope first attracted, suffice to account for the organ- 
ization of the communities. The danger arising from 
lack of all authority and the scarcely less serious one of 
full dependence upon the direct action of the Spirit, the 
troublesome and inevitable disorders attendant upon the 
absence of organized discipline, all combined to urge 
these primitive fraternities to provide themselves with 
some form of government. 

There was no lack of models: in both the Greek and 
the Latin sections of the Eoman Empire religious asso- 
ciations or corporations had long been in existence, 
brought together for some common pious or charitable 
work, thiasoi and eranoi, they were called in the one case, 
and in the other, collegia, especially the collegia 
tenuiorum, i.e., societies of the humbler folk. They had 
their elected officials and their own funds, supplied by 
subscriptions and supervised by special trustees. More- 
over, the Jews of the Dispersion, wherever they met, were 
they but a handful, as we have learned, were grouped in 
synagogues, 3 regularly constituted and organized, even if 
they varied somewhat in these respects. The Christians, 
therefore, whether of Gentile or Jewish origin, knew how 
to set about governing themselves. 

It is probable that both the pagan associations and the 
Jewish colleges exercised an influence upon them at the 
same time, now the one and now the other more decisively, 
according to locality and circumstances. The duties of 
their officials naturally are prescribed by necessity and 
their names as naturally borrowed from the language 
current at the time. This is the case with words like 
presbyteros, which meant "elder," episcopos, which sig- 
nified "overseer," and diaconos, the term used for a 
"server," before these same words came to signify 
respectively "priest," "bishop," or "deacon." Thus 
do they make provision with more or less zeal and suc- 
cess to meet the need of converts for instruction, for 

8 The word synagog6 has, in the main, the same connotation as the 
word ecclesia, and it often happens that the former in the second 
century is still used to denote the Christian gathering. 


the maintenance of order and morals and the sound 
traditions of the faith, for regularity in worship and, 
finally, to feed their poor. 

Whoever will read through the Acts, the Pauline 
Epistles and the three pseudo-Pauline letters, called the 
Pastoral Letters,* which appeared shortly after Paul's 
day, will comprehend how rapidly this process of 
organization, once begun, proceeded. By the end of the 
first century, in some churches at least, there is a 
single "bishop," the general "overseer" of the whole 
community, who consequently is in a fair way to keep 
the upper hand in all matters; and, at his side "pres- 
byters," specially charged with the exercise of spiritual 
offices; and "deacons," mainly concerned with material 

That which gives firmness and precision to all this 
regularly appointed administrative machinery is, first, 
the growing (and probably justifiable) distrust felt with 
regard to the inspired persons who, as Apostles, pro- 
phets or didascaloi* wander from place to place, appar- 
ently exercising paramount influence over the communi- 
ties during their early days. Another factor was the 
lessening of the authority of the inspired persons who 
were residents of the locality. People weary of what is 
extraordinary and incoherent ; the faith of most ordinary 
men naturally aims at stability, which is a synonym to 
them for truth. The gifts which the Spirit had been 
scattering at will upon a larger or smaller number of 
the brethren do not disappear, however; they pass to 
the bishop and strengthen him in his authority. Again, 
there is the wish for and the beginning of ritual rendered 
almost compulsory by their surroundings and that calls 
for specialists. Lastly, there is the idea which is 
promptly emphasized, that the shepherds are responsible 

* I and II Tim. and the Epistle to Titus. 

B The functions of these various types of inspired persons do not 
seem to be very clearly differentiated. Perhaps it is not too much to 
assume that the apostle brings the faith to men; that the prophet 
justifies it through his revelations, and that the didascalos teaches its 
doctrine (The Greek word didaskein means "to teach.") 

132 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

to God for the flock confided to their care, and responsi- 
bility implies authority. 

These diverse factors agree in a common tendency to 
make the same people responsible for the originally dis- 
tinct functions of instruction, edification and administra- 
tion, or at least to place in highest authority over them 
all a single person who is referred to as the "ruling 
bishop." The advent and the triumph of the monarchic 
episcopate constitutes the first great stage in the organi- 
zation of the Church, and it has exercised upon her life 
for many centuries an influence which is incalculable in 
its consequences. 6 


The word "bishop" (episcopos) means, as we have 
already said, "overseer," and in this sense it was occa- 
sionally used in the pagan associations as the equivalent 
of epimeletes, which signifies "commissary," or "stew- 
ard," and in some cases, "director," but it always 
carries the idea of oversight. In the beginning the 
bishops (for each congregation had several of them) 
did not trouble either to teach or to edify in any other 
way than by their good example. They occupied 
themselves in maintaining and confirming the Church 
in the practice of morality and of the precepts of the 
true faith, and exercised the upper hand in all matters 
relating to the temporal concerns of the congregation. 
The oldest texts group them with the deacons and 
not with the presbyters, and this is a small but significant 
fact with regard to the origin and nature of their earlier 

Their authority developed very fast as soon as the 
practice of several bishops in the one congregation had 
disappeared; we do not know exactly how this change 
was accomplished, but we can easily perceive the causes 
that made such a step necessary. At a time when the 
symbol of the faith was still comparatively free from 
dogma, and the formidable tendency to inflation known 

•J. Reville, Les origines de V6piscopat (Paris, 1894). 


to most religions was operating with excessive energy, 
owing to the flood of suggestions proceeding from the 
surrounding syncretistic milieu, it was necessary to 
organize a vigilant defense for the flock against the 
1 ' wolves ' ' without the fold, and also those within, namely, 
the heretics. 7 The work of defense proves to be more 
ready and vigilant when placed in charge of a single 
person. Where one man alone is responsible, the author- 
ity required to sustain good order and assure good man- 
agement in the administration of the charities seems 
more effective. Moreover, the pagan institutions and 
the Jewish communities are as a rule inclined to choose 
a presiding officer or chairman in order to secure unity 
of action on the part of the whole group, and to symbol- 
ize, as it were, its union. Among the Christian brethren 
the belief soon spreads that the Apostles foresaw the 
difficulties the churches would encounter and that they 
are the ones who have provided episcopacy for the pur- 
pose of dealing properly with them. Each congregation, 
it is claimed, is a kind of microcosm of the great Church 
of the Lord, with a bishop as its legitimate head, as 
Christ is the head of his Church. Finally, as soon as 
the ritual is developed, the bishop, by a parallel some- 
what forced, yet inevitable, drawn between him and the 
Jewish High Priest, becomes the president or master of 
the liturgical ceremonies. 

Many considerations, it is now clear, different enough 
in their origin and their trend, concur in lodging the 
episcopal authority in the hands of a single bishop. 
However, even after he shares his power with none, but 
performs his functions alone, he is not necessarily an 
absolute master in his church. For a time, varying in 
length with the locality, he appears as the president of 
the "presbyterion, M i.e., the council formed of the pres- 
byters, but this is only one stage, and certain of the 
churches in Asia have already passed it at the beginning 

7 The word "heretic" appears for the first time in the Epistle to 
Titus iii. 10: alpe-uxbv fivOpwxov. Etymologically, the heretic is "he 
who chooses," but, as a matter of fact, at the time of which we are 
writing, it means rather, "he who adds" unthinkingly. 

134 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

of the second century. At that time Ignatius of Antioch 
proclaims that the bishop is God's representative in the 
Church, that no one ought to do anything at all without 
him, and that to act otherwise is to further the devil's 
work. Of course it is tacitly understood that the bishop 
himself always acts in accordance with the presbyters 
and deacons. In the end, however, Ignatius writes: 
"Fix your eyes upon the bishop that God may see you," 
and "It is right to honor God and the bishop" 8 {sic). 
One can hardly go further. 

It was between 130 and 150 a.d. or thereabouts that 
the monarchic episcopate won the day in all the churches, 
one after another. Its triumph was favored and empha- 
sized by the crises of various kinds which the Church 
had to undergo from that time on. Persecutions deci- 
mated and dispersed the "flock." More especially, they 
left behind them many apostates anxious to return to 
the fold, who could not be received without due pre- 
cautions. Heresies arise which are very dangerous, par- 
ticularly the syncretistic combinations composed of the 
fundamental tenets of the Christian faith, ancient Ori- 
ental myths and the theories of Greek philosophers. 
In the first place these captivate the "intellectuals" 
among the brethren, and in the next they fascinate the 
mystics and (at the opposite pole) all whom magical 
operations attract by the appearance of reality displayed 
by them. Moreover, group contagion soon reduces the 
resistance which a church here and there may offer to the 
episcopal movement, and toward the beginning of the 
third century consent is readily granted by Christians 
that unity of organization is a direct parallel to unity of 
belief, and just as essential. 

And henceforth the work of justifying the existing situ- 
ation will proceed energetically. That the monarchic 
episcopate was instituted by the Apostles themselves, it 
is soon agreed, and each church produces a list of 
bishops which runs back to some Apostle who was its 
founder, or in default of an Apostle, to a disciple of 

8 Ad Polyc. vi. 1 ; Ad Smyrn. ix. 1. 


an Apostle, or to the deputy of an Apostolic church 
who is considered to be its founder. The symbol of 
the bishop's authority is the throne, the cathedra which 
is reputed to be the seat of all his predecessors. The 
phrase, for instance, the " throne of Peter," means the 
"authority of the Bishop of Borne." And the main- 
spring for this authority, quite as much as for the rule 
of faith, is in fact the Apostolic tradition. Not until 
much later did the monarchic episcopate seek justifica- 
tion for its existence in various passages in the Gospel, 
and especially in that of Matt. xvi. 19 : "I will give unto 
thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven : and whatsoever 
thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven : and 
whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in 


The monarchic bishop is elected by the congregation 
and ordained, i.e., installed in the ordo sacerdotalis by 
the bishops of the neighborhood. In theory, the people 
choose whom they will, but not counting in the legitimate 
and usually weighty influence attaching to the sugges- 
tions which emanate from the presbyters and deacons 
of the church, it is plain that already efforts are being 
made to withdraw the power of election from them. 
Sometimes the bishop himself will name his successor, 
or again a group of bishops may authorize the nomina- 
tion to a vacant see, but these are as yet exceptions, 
justified by the special circumstances of the case. 

The conditions of eligibility are still very elastic. The 
future bishop must be a man of blameless morals, 
vouched for by marriage or widowerhood, and of a stable 
faith, hence not too recently acquired. His intellectual 
qualifications seem to be a secondary consideration, and 
his age is not yet very important, but it is required — 
though without extreme insistence on the point — that he 
should be physically well qualified for the work he has 
to perform. As yet no strictly ecclesiastical qualification 
is mandatory, by this I mean that the popular choice 

136 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

may light upon a simple "brother." But the bishops, 
at any rate, are already tending to demand that he 
shall previously have held some other ecclesiastical 
office, and this is good sense. 

Even in these remote times, and despite the fact that the 
position is occasionally a post of some danger, competi- 
tion and intrigue are frequently at work to obtain it. 
Moreover, something about it is flattering to the spirit of 
domination inherent in man, from which Christ himself, 
if we are to believe the Gospel, was unable to preserve 
his Apostles. The bishop was deemed responsible to 
God for the faith, morals and disciplining of his Church ; 
but this formidable responsibility itself enhanced his 
importance in the eyes of others as well as in his own. 
As a matter of fact, the religious and moral direction 
of the community was in his hands, as well as the dis- 
ciplinary and penance prescribing powers which had 
originally been vested in the assembly of the brethren. 
He it was who debarred the sinner whom he deemed a 
scandal to the Church from communion, that is, prac- 
tically expelled him from the congregation by excluding 
him from the Eucharist. He supervised the clergy, 
administered the finances, regulated the grants of alms 
and their distribution, and, at need, played the part of 
justice of the peace in disputes between the members of 
his flock. Most important, he controlled the distribution 
of the power that lay in the sacramental rites ; he admin- 
istered baptism and consecrated the Eucharist. Of all 
his functions this assuredly brought him most prestige ; 
in this respect his dignity will continue to increase in 
the measure that the magical idea of the mysterious and 
all-powerful sacrament gains ground. To all this add 
that it was the duty of the bishop to visit the sick and 
comfort the afflicted, and the amplitude of his role and 
the varied aspects of his authority may be realized. 

This authority had indeed no other limits than those 
created by his own abuse of it, which would incite the 
clergy and the congregation to rebel, and might result 
in a kind of strike which would oblige the rash individual 


to resign his charge, or the bishops, who had inducted 
him, to depose him. 

However powerful he might be in his own church, 
moreover, in a neighboring one the bishop is but one 
of the brethren who is received with due honor, but 
who cannot preach without the express invitation of 
the local bishop. From the legal point of view, 
each church is still entirely independent and free 
to regulate its faith and its discipline as it thinks proper. 
Nevertheless, the dangers of isolation involved in this 
autonomy are clearly visible; if it had continued, the 
Catholic Church would never have come into existence, 
but Christians would have dispersed into numerous little 
sects. Happily, developing practice succeeds in correct- 
ing this situation. Each church, in the first place, is con- 
cerned to know what its neighbor is doing; the smaller 
ones, especially, model themselves upon the larger; 
brethren go back and forth from one to another and 
often create close ties between them. The bishops visit 
and also keep up correspondence with each other; in 
difficult cases they assemble in small groups even at this 
early date for the purpose of consultation. And thus 
it comes about that the authority of the monarch-like 
bishop is, in practice as well as by its claims, the essential 
basis of the Catholic organization, long before there is 
any question of a pope. 

The bishop achieved an easy triumph over the rank 
and file of his congregation and dispossessed them of 
the rights which they had exercised in the primitive 
community ; but victory was a harder matter in the case 
of the other ecclesiastical officials, the presbyters and the 
deacons. Proofs are in evidence of cases of stubborn 
resistance, really useless, however, because in the first 
place they are unrelated and not acting in concert, but 
more particularly because they nowhere find firm footing 
in the way of principles or reasons comparable to those 
which sustain the monarchic episcopate. 

After the bishop's decisive victory, the other ecclesi- 
astical functionaries — the " clergy," as they are called, 

138 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

beginning with the third century — form side by side 
with him an " order," a special class within the body 
of the faithful. Entrance into this order is by "ordina- 
tion," which rests entirely with the bishop as ruler, and 
is yet but an installation into an office with special func- 
tions. Little by little a special ceremonial will become 
attached to this installation in the case of each set of 
duties, infused with the idea of a mysterious conferring 
of qualifications which will become the sacrament of 
"Holy Orders"; but in the second century this is still 
far in the future. 

In this clergy order {ordo clericalis), deacons must 
still be named after the bishop, who takes precedence 
because they are his assistants — eyes, as it were, to look 
around and report to him, and arms to carry out his 
decisions. Later on 8 Moses and Aaron will serve as the 
type of this relation between bishop and deacons. Very 
early in the important churches one of the officials is a 
head deacon, called the "archdeacon." As late as the 
fourth century, the deacons refuse to accept a place lower 
in the hierarchy than the priests, and theoretically they 
are in the right, for their official functions were in no 
degree inferior at first to those of the presbyters. They 
were then more of another kind, which makes it more 
suitable to speak of them as equals than of superior 
and inferior. But, little by little, time effaced these 
original fundamental distinctions so much that the 
Councils of the fourth century render a decision that the 
attitude of deacons who will not remain standing in the 
presence of the priests, or communicate after them, is 
frankly reprehensible and indeed somewhat scandalous. 
The priests (presbyters) seem to be patterned after the 
council of the elders — the Sanhedrin — of the Jewish syn- 
agogue. At first they function as the council or board 
of the congregation, and, in fact, govern it; then their 
functions slowly become restricted to the spiritual 
domain, and after the advent of the monarchic episco- 
pate, they become the deputies and, if need be, the 
■ Const. Apost. ii. 30. 


bishop's substitutes in all his functions in the spiritual 
realm. So that is why they consider themselves the 
superiors of the deacons, who are at first engaged almost 
exclusively in the task of ministering to material needs. 

Ritual and ecclesiastical life, as their growth proceeds, 
gradually add to the clergy order (ordo clericalis), and 
besides the deacons and priests various special and 
subordinate functionaries appear: exorcists, acolytes, 
readers, doorkeepers, who all hold office from the begin- 
ning of the third century or thereabouts. The bishop 
selects them, and by degrees use and wont come to 
regard these auxiliary functions as designed to test and 
confirm vocations which will ultimately find their true 
sphere in the diaconate, the priesthood, or even in the 
episcopate. These clerics must of course be of irre- 
proachable morals, but they may marry, even after their 

The clergy of those days comprised women also. They 
are known as "deaconesses," "widows," or "virgins," 
but it is by no means easy to distinguish the particular 
functions corresponding with these three titles, nor to 
define any one of them precisely. All that can be made 
out is that the women attached to the Church are not to 
teach, but to serve. They seem to be of the bishop's 
assistants on the occasions he has to deal with the 
"sisters" of the congregation. Distrust with respect 
to the temptations of sex seems to have been very highly 
developed among Christians at that time. It was 
founded upon experience ; precautions, occasionally some- 
what puerile, seem to have been taken to preserve the 
clergy from such temptations. 

Theoretically, all the clergy live "of the altar," that is, 
they live upon the offerings and the gifts of the faithful, 
but many of them follow the example of the Apostle Paul, 
and also work at some respectable trade. 

The Christian community remains for a long time a 
little group or unit, like the Jewish "associations" 
upon pagan soil. All its members are, if I may put 
it thus, religious equals, and, therefore, the differ- 

140 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

ence which the possession of office makes between those 
who do, and those who do not, hold office is not one of kind. 
By degrees this changes. As long as the idea of the 
sovereignty of the Spirit which "breatheth where it 
listeth" still holds, no way exists of establishing a 
lasting distinction between the cleric and the inspired 
believer, and, I repeat, that ordinatio had not yet acquired 
this meaning. By rights a simple believer may, upon 
occasion, baptize, preach, consecrate the Eucharist and 
impose penance. The clergy naturally endeavor to 
restrict and even to suppress these privileges and powers 
which circumscribe their own importance. The develop- 
ment of ordination in the sense of a sacrament deemed 
to confer upon the recipient permanent gifts of the Spirit 
for the exercise of this and that function, proceeds step 
by step with the practical disappearance of inspired 
individuals in the assemblies of the brethren, and gradu- 
ally places the ordinary believer, the layman, 10 in a sub- 
ordinate position, playing a passive part in comparison 
to the clergy. 

In the second half of the second century, a curious 
pietistic movement, begun in Phrygia at the instance of 
a certain Montanus, makes a strong endeavor to restore 
the inspired to first place in the Church, and to relegate 
the clergy to the mere administration of the affairs of 
the flock, but the failure of this Montanism hastens the 
result it had arisen to combat. Montanus had, in truth, 
committed an anachronism. 


It is observable that the evolution within the Christian 
communities of the first two centuries leads to the con- 
ception of and a measure of realization, in principle at 
least, of the idea of the Catholic Church. The Catholic 
is something altogether different from the Pauline idea 
of the Church of God; it is indeed no longer limited to 

1 ° The Greek word Xa6q means "people" ; the Xaixog therefore, means 
"one reckoned among the Christian people." 


a question of the union of hearts between brethren who 
share the same hope, a hope symbolized, or rather, 
expressed by the common invocation in use everywhere 
of "the same divine name," at which the whole creation 
is to bow the knee. The Catholic idea of the Church 
includes unity in belief, rites, practices, spirit, discipline, 
and also in principle a common, general policy — pending 
the formation of the organism which henceforth will be 
required to declare and apply a consensus of opinion 

The Catholic idea appears, upon the whole, to embrace 
two main components, one of which has to do with prac- 
tice and the other with theory, if I may express it thus. 

At the end of the second century Tertullian expresses 
the general conviction when he says that "Christians 
form a body," the members of which ought to remain 
united for the good of all and the reenforcement of the 
truth. Moreover, this fraternal union rests as yet upon 
no other foundation than the idea that it ought to be 
and the voluntary good will of all in its favor. Still 
the question has not been raised of the subordination 
of such and such churches to this other, a course by 
which, if taken, at least the problem would be simplified. 
I need only cite as proof the attitude of St. Cyprian, 
bishop of Carthage in the third century — great advocate 
though he was of the necessity for agreement. Against 
Stephen, bishop of Rome, he stirs up the entire 
African episcopate upon a question of discipline, affirm- 
ing the inalienable right of each church to remain her 
own mistress. The origin of the idea of the Christian 
body may be traced, in fact, to the repeated contacts of 
the different communities with each other, to the dis- 
cussions between the bishops, the exchanges of letters 
concerning the solution of questions which are press- 
ing and momentous to them all, such as the fixing of 
one date for Easter, or the right attitude to adopt 
toward a new doctrine that is making headway in the 

This is the first component spoken of above ; the other 

142 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

is the idea of the Catholic faith. The phrase means 
primarily the common, general faith, opposed to the 
faith exceptional and particular, and on that account, 
heretical. I have already said that this normal faith, 
in the opinion of the day, was quite simply esteemed 
to be that of the Apostles, preserved by an inviolable 
tradition in the churches they founded. And as an 
inevitable corollary, the churches maintain that apart 
from this faith there is no hope of salvation. St. Ireneus, 
bishop of Lyons in the last quarter of the second cen- 
tury, develops the content of this idea. Its practical 
consequence is that honorary preeminence is given, 
for the present, to the Apostolic churches. This means 
that what one might call the determining of the future 
administrative framework of Catholic organization has 
begun. Although the metropolitans do not appear as 
officials before the beginning of the fourth century, they 
exist in substance for some time prior. To express it 
differently, the big churches in the large towns gradu- 
ally exert upon the smaller communities in their neigh- 
borhood an influence which resembles those pertaining 
to the headship of a hegemony. When the time comes 
for the Councils of the fourth century to recognize the 
authority of the metropolitan bishops, they are scarcely 
doing more than sanctioning and regulating a state of 
things already in existence. 

Think for a moment of the favorable conditions which 
the church of Rome had at call for the purpose of acquir- 
ing supremacy in the West, and no surprise need be felt 
that she should one day accomplish her end. 

She was considered the daughter church of the Apostle 
Peter, and believed she possessed his episcopal throne 
and his tomb. The Apostle Paul, by visiting her and 
yielding up his life to the executioner's axe near one 
of the gates of the city, seemed, as it were, to have 
made her as the church of Peter doubly apostolic. Its 
congregation early became both numerous and rich, 
as its catacombs bear witness, and the generosity of its 


alms to other churches led Ignatius to call the church in 
Rome "the president of charity." X1 The reflected luster 
of the capital of the Empire shines upon her. Long 
before she thinks of exploiting to her own advantage 
various Gospel passages by making them the basis of 
her primacy of jurisdiction, the other Western churches 
(she is probably the eldest of them, and, in many cases, 
the mother) find no difficulty in according her an honor- 
ary primacy, which was her due. 

Thus, from the beginning of the third century, the 
churches already possess an organization, of which they 
will preserve the framework, at any rate, and they prom- 
ise to endure. So, too, the universal Church begins its 
journey from the domain of the abstract and of the 
dream to seek realization in the union and confederation 
of the special churches. The future has only to develop 
logically the premises already laid down. 

Let us note at once that this organization which has 
come to pass of Christians in closed and disciplined 
communities, combined with the tendency to catholicity, 
seems to favor Christian exclusiveness, to accentuate the 
appearance of opposition shown by the believer to the 
unbeliever and the hostile attitude of Christian society 
with respect to pagan society. When the matter is more 
closely examined, it is plain that the churches are not, 
as they like to think themselves, severed and apart from 
their milieu, but that on the contrary they live in and 
are part and parcel of it. Indeed, they constitute wonder- 
ful mediums for the extracting and the syncretistic 
absorption of all religious sustenance in the surrounding 
religions that has been kept from spoiling. The tendency 
to Catholicism on the other hand, favors the well- 
balanced combination in a coherent whole of special and 
dissimilar acquisitions. And from this time forward it 
is possible to catch a glimpse of the deep motive forces 
in the Church which will account for the volte-face of 
the State and of society in the fourth century. 

11 In the address of his Epistle to the Roman xpoxaGTjtiivrj tt)<j iy&Tnc. 



We know, at the time that its separation from 
Judaism sanctioned the autonomy of the form which 
Christianity assumed in the Greco-Roman world, a 
religion without rites was inconceivable. Since the 
Christian belief naturally gave itself out as a revelation, 
it was also inconceivable that it should not draw up a 
series of the settled metaphysical statements which are 
called dogmas. Note has been taken of the way that 
Christianity secured a foothold and acquired the appara- 
tus of practical existence during the first two centuries ; 
now an account will be given of the methods it followed 
and the results it attained with regard to ritual and 
dogma in the same period. 

If a stand be taken at the end of the Apostolic age, 
toward the close of the first century after Christ, it 
will be found very easy to become a Christian. It is 
enough to confess that Jesus Christ is the Messiah 
promised by God to men, that he died for their sins, 
and will shortly come again to judge both the living and 
the dead and inaugurate the Kingdom of God, in which 
the righteous with their risen and glorified bodies will 
live in bliss with him. This is about all. Whoever makes 
this confession receives baptism, a Jewish rite which the 
Christians have adopted. In the Pauline Mystery, fully 
charged with a symbolism — and realism — syncretistic in 

1 Upon the early form of worship read : Dom F. Cabrol, Le livre de la 
priere antique (Paris, 1903) ; F. E. Warren, The Liturgy and Ritual of 
the Ante-Nicene Church (London, 1912) ; J. H. Snawley, The Early 
History of the Liturgy (Cambridge, 1913) ; V. Thalhofer & L. Eisen- 
hofer, Handbuch der katholischcn Littirgik (Friburg, 1912). Upon 
the Creed: A. Harnack, Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, Vol. I 
(Tubingen, 1909) ; Loofs, Leitfaden zum, Studium der Dogmengeschichte 
(Halle, 1906) ; G. B. Fisher, History of Christian Doctrine (Edinburgh, 
1902). Cf. Guignebert, L'e'volution des dogmes (Paris, 1909). 



origin, it signifies and somehow puts in force afresh, for 
the neophyte, the death and resurrection of the Lord. 
For ordinary converts, at the least it symbolizes, and 
is a ratification of, repentance, the change of life, and 
a pledge of the blotting out of all sin. Baptism is 
regarded as stamping the seal of the Lord upon the 
Christian, and it is accompanied by an illumination, 
which is a gift of the Holy Spirit. The admission is 
generally that this baptism is necessary as a consecra- 
tion of conversion, and at first no great ceremony is 
required. It may be administered by any Christian and 
received without much previous preparation; it is, so to 
speak, an act of faith, and the works of the Holy Spirit 
transpire rapidly. Possibly the baptized person even at 
this early day recites a brief formula setting forth the 
main articles of his belief. 

We know that these relate to statements that are 
fairly simple. As soon as the neophyte, however, has 
entered the Church speculations pounce upon him which 
certainly are not acceptable to everyone, but which do 
arouse a passionate interest. The person of Christ is 
naturally their central theme. Once the little Apostolic 
band which has known him "in the flesh" has passed 
away, no veto of history impedes or limits the experi- 
ences or inflations put forth by the faith. Summed up, 
these develop by delving into three initial ideas of the 
Lord which lend themselves to that process. First of 
these is the Pauline iclea, and its main characteristics 
are: Jesus was a celestial man, i.e., a man who existed 
in respect to the elements of his spiritual person in 
heaven previous to his incarnation. His life-principle, 
if the expression be permissible, is the Holy Spirit him- 
self, for "the Lord is the Spirit." 2 He descended to 
earth to institute a new humanity, of w T hich he is the 
Adam, a humanity which he has freed from the yoke 
of sin by accepting, for the purpose of redeeming it, 
the wretched life of man and death by an infamous form 
of torment. "He . . .is the image of the invisible God, 

■ II Cor. iii. 17. 

146 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

the firstborn of all creation; for in him were all things 
created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible 
and things invisible ... all things have been created 
through him and unto him; and he is before all things, 
and in him all things consist" (Col. i. 15-18). His per- 
son, therefore, as Sabatier so aptly puts it, is "the meta- 
physical point in which God effects a union with the 
whole of creation"; his resurrection and his glorification 
in God assure the believer of his own victory over death. 
I have already remarked that this Christology betrays 
the influences of its syncretistic milieu at work and so 
becomes the first of the Christian gnoses. It did not 
bear all its fruits at once; it was not properly under- 
stood and, even in the churches founded by the Apostle, 
it dropped into the background at first. Nevertheless, 
it lived on in his Epistles. In the end it was sought out 
there, deemed inspired when rediscovered, and became 
one of the foundations upon which the Helleno-Christian 
speculative thought was reared. 

The second of these constructions put upon the person 
of Christ is the Johannine Christology. It rests upon 
an affirmation of identity between the Lord and the 
Logos, which at first sight, seems akin to the Pauline 
formula, "The Lord (Jesus) is the Spirit." In reality 
it embraces a much deeper metaphysical meaning, since 
the Logos in its character of an emanation from God 
is God in the final analysis, and to say "The Lord is 
the Logos" is almost equivalent to saying "The Lord 
(Jesus) is God." A Jew, I repeat, would find this a 
shocking and blasphemous proposition. On the other 
hand, it would be quite acceptable to a Greek, for Greek 
thought readily admits grades in this matter of divinity, 
and certainly its acceptance would be in line with the 
direction whither the living faith is tending, which is 
instinctively to exalt the Lord more and more. 

The third of these constructions put upon the person 
of Christ is the Docetic Christology (so called from 
the Greek word 86xy)<jis," appearance") which maintains 
that the Lord was man in appearance only, and that he 


appeared only to suffer and die. On this basis Docetism 
sought to avoid the necessity of imposing upon the 
Divine Being a degrading association with the flesh and 
its works, but it found itself drawn into the necessity 
of imagining a process of redemption quite different 
from that current in the common faith. Moreover, nota- 
ble differences occur in the conception of this process 
of redemption itself, according to the various gnostic 
systems which adopted it. 

Notwithstanding the differences in their point of 
departure and, if you will, in their spirit, it is evident 
that these three Christologies are tending to the same 
result, that is, to remove Christ from ranking with 
humanity by bringing him closer to God. This was in 
itself an exceedingly difficult thing, because from its 
basic underlying Judaism Christianity had derived 
an uncompromising monotheism. While accepting the 
Lord to be really a divine being, it found it im- 
possible, apparently, to do aught else than subordinate 
him to God, just as the Soter (savior) of the Mysteries 
is subordinate to the Supreme Divinity. Long before 
Christian thought had been directed toward the idea of 
a Trinity of divi le persons, united in a single essence 
within the Divine Being itself, many different solutions 
had been essayed, of most of which only vague and con- 
fused traces remain. While this was going on the gen- 
erality of the faithful were not yet obliged to profess 
adherence to any of them, nor did that which they were 
asked to believe demand a very great effort of thought 
on their part. • 

That which was laid upon them to do was to live aright, 
that is, to preserve themselves with the utmost circum- 
spectness from all the moral weaknesses which men by 
common consent consider sins; to struggle untiringly 
against the evil instincts of the flesh, supported by abso- 
lute confidence in the grace of the Heavenly Father and 
in the intercession of the Lord Jesus Christ. Frequent 
prayers and fastings were practices taken over from 
Judaism and kept up. The entire ritual life is still con- 

148 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

fined to the Eucharistic reunion — the assembly for wor- 
ship which takes places on the Saturday evening and lasts 
until the dawn of Sunday — in which they consecrate 
and consume ritually the sacred elements, bread and 
wine. It is not probable, however, that all the com- 
munities had yet given their consent to the same idea 
of the Eucharist. Most of them see in it merely a 
memorial of the Passion and a repast of. brotherhood ; 
others regard it as supplying an effective means of asso- 
ciating themselves with their Lord in the essential act 
of his ministry on earth, a kind of supplement that puts 
new life into the gifts received in baptism. We dimly 
perceive or divine some other practices, such as the 
anointing with oil, accompanied by the laying-on of 
hands, which the writer of the Epistle ascribed to James 
advises to be applied to the sick, and that again is an 
essentially Jewish custom. 

These, then, constitute, toward the beginning of the 
second century the initiation, the prevailing doctrine and 
the worship of the Christians. As a whole, it is all very 
simple and at the same time very plastic. Upon its dis- 
tinctly recognizable Jewish groundwork, influences from 
the Hellenistic religions and (indirectly, certainly, but 
also visibly) Greek philosophic ideas which have filtered 
down to the public have begun to take effect. Let us 
therefore try to observe how, as soon as these effects are 
avowed, they complicate at once the form of initation or 
entrance into the Church, her beliefs and her practices, 

all three. 

Entrance into the Church is pronouncedly complicated 
through the tendency to elaborate the ritual which devel- 
ops in nearly all religious camps as soon as a religion 
begins to be systematically propagated, and seems, more- 
over, to inhere in the very existence of a true clergy 
class. "We must take into account also the fear of the 
unsound brother who might misuse the Mystery if he 
were admitted to it without due formalities. Precau- 


tions are accordingly taken to avoid its profanation. 
For a long time it was believed that this had been finally 
cared for by organizing them into a system called the 
"discipline of the arcanum," i.e., of the secret. Under 
it the instruction and the initiation of the future Chris- 
tian was arranged in stages, and it was not till the final 
one had been reached and after very searching tests that 
the last word of the Mystery was revealed. Something 
of this kind may be s°en in practice following the institu- 
tion of the catechumenate, i.e., succeeding the organiz- 
ing of a regular course of instruction in the Christian 
faith for the use of the candidates for baptism. After 
all, however, the arcanum can be no more than second 
hand and a piece of mere ritual dramatization, for the 
sufficient reason that the last word of the Mystery is 
the starting point and the raison d'etre of the conversion. 
"Progressive revelation" is at that time a mere symbol, 
for on the very first day the convert knows what will be 
said to him on the last one, or at any rate, something 
closely aproaching it. Before the institution of the cate- 
chumenate, the arcanum would have been void of mean- 
ing, and afterward it never attains much practical 

However, the mere intention of taking precautions to 
protect from profanation, if not the beliefs that cannot 
be withheld from those who ask for an explanation, at 
least those rites which I shall henceforth call the sacra- 
ments, is a step toward the establishment of a probation- 
ary stage for Christian novices. This is exactly what the 
catechumenate is (the word is derived from xaTYj^sw, 
"I teach"). The first evidence of it in operation is found 
in Tertullian 3 and it seems to have become generally es- 
tablished toward the end of the second century, without, 
however, attaining uniformity of content everywhere. Al- 
ways and everywhere, however, it does represent the edu- 
cation and the oversight of the faith of the neophyte by 
the authorities of the community. By inscribing his name 
on the roll and submitting to certain preparatory rites, of 

8 De praescriptione 41. 2. 

150 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

which the chief is the exorcism of the devils within him, 
the candidate becomes a catechumen. Then, after a period 
of instruction varying in length, and of examination, he 
enters the ranks of competentes, the aspirants for bap- 
tism, which is administered by the bishop on some great 
festival such as Easter or "Whitsuntide. 

Baptism itself has now become a complicated cere- 
monial embracing at least a course of special instructions 
and exorcisms, a threefold immersion, the laying on of 
hands, accompanied by an anointing with holy oil and the 
first communion. Henceforth it is understood that if 
the believer in the catechumen stage is qualified for salva- 
tion, only the baptized participate in the fulness of the 
Christian gifts and graces — charisma. Baptism alone 
creates between the believer and his Lord the mysterious 
bonds which make the full Christian his peculiar own. 
And it is by no means difficult to recognize echoes of the 
spirit of the Hellenistic Mysteries in these progressive 
stages of initiation, these all-powerful rites and the 
opinion held as to their significance. Such emphasis is 
laid on the rigor of the engagements entered into in bap- 
tism and of the peril involved in their violation, that 
many men who are perfectly good Christians at heart 
consider it both more comfortable and more prudent to 
ask for baptism only when at the point of death. This 
custom of postponing baptism, although its extension was 
stoutly resisted by the clergy, seems to have grown very 
common at the end of the third and the beginning of the 
fourth centuries, especially among Christians of the 
aristocratic classes. 


As to creed, that has been fostered and amplified by 
the faith. In a milieu which we know from other sources 
to be thoroughly saturated with dogma, the creed devel- 
oped under a twofold influence. In the first place, it was 
the work of ignorant folk, who obviously can scarcely take 
in anything above very ordinary inventions and inflations. 
So while they desire ardently that the truth or creed 


shall remain immutable, they are unable to protect it 
from changes. In the very beginning, they are the ones 
who accept and impose the most compromising additions 
to Christology, because they contribute to the inflation of 
their Lord's greatness. At bottom, the converts won 
from the ranks of Hellenism, who come with minds full 
of the tenets of Orphism or the Mysteries, do not will- 
ingly renounce these in becoming Christians. On the 
contrary, they seek, and desire to find, them in Chris- 
tianity, and even unconsciously — though irresistibly — 
they introduce them into it. In the second place, it was 
the work of the philosophers. I mean the educated men 
equipped by their training to argue about the faith and 
to become theologians. There is no room for doubt that 
from the very beginning Christianity professes to be in 
possession of the whole gamut of truth; consequently the 
philosophy whose business it is to search for it no longer 
has a raison d'etre, and certain learned doctors, such as 
Tertullian, Arnobius and Lactantius, do not hesitate to 
proclaim that its day is done. Nevertheless, the charm 
of Greek thought continues to exert an influence over 
most of those who submitted to it before they yielded to 
the allurement of the Christian faith. These men, too, 
will not, or at least cannot, however honestly they may 
try, renounce the fundamental data and particularly the 
speculative methods of the Greek schools. Accordingly 
they apply them to the premises of the faith and to the 
suggestions which they draw from the religious senti- 
ment of the ignorant. Complicated dogmas, such as that 
of the Trinity, or subtle ones like the doctrine of Tran- 
substantiation, owe their first form and their later 
developments to the inflations and the lines of arguments 
of the philosophers, pressed to them ofttimes by the 
contradictory positions taken by the ignorant.* 

4 It is especially the Christian doctors of Alexandria who favor this 
fertilizing influence of Greek philosophy upon the data of the faith. 
The most illustrious among them, Origen (in the third century), goes 
so far as to explain the "Apostolic truths" in the language of Plato, 
that is, to regard Christianity through a Platonic and, to a lesser 
extent, Stoic, interpretation, a task earlier undertaken by Philo with 
respect to Judaism, Cf. the preface to his De principiis. 

152 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

In the one case as in the other, and in the final analysis, 
it is always faith which exalts and inflates doctrine, and 
it is ever from her former religious surroundings that 
faith borrows the fresh elements which she mixes with 
the old by changed formulas, and thus secures her new 

In leaving behind the primitive epoch when faith was 
regulated by the promptings of the Spirit only, Chris- 
tians, as was but natural, perceived mainly the danger 
which might accrue to it through "subjectivity," by 
which I mean the mischief which individual vagaries 
might introduce. On the other hand, they went through 
the everlasting illusion of all revealed religions : the truth 
is one, and therefore immutable, and very early they 
imagined the whole of it was contained in the Apostolic 
teaching. To strengthen this conviction, quite as much 
as to ward off the risk of frittering away their beliefs or 
of overvaluing some of them for lack of due considera- 
tion, a tendency developed to establish a "rule of faith" 
(regula fidei) which was declared unvarying. This ten- 
dency is admirably expressed by Tertullian's formula: 
"Faith is contained in a rule; it is both its law and its 
salvation to observe law." s 

There are a few indications in favor of the position 
that from the first century short rules, which could be 
learnt by heart and repeated by converts at their baptism, 
were in existence. That which is still known as the 
Apostles' Creed is only a rule of faith, a very ancient 
one, for in its primitive form it seems to have been 
settled upon in Rome about 150 a.d. and attributed to the 
Apostles in order that it might be accepted by all the 
churches. It was not, however, the only one of its kind, 
and documents of the second and third centuries quote 
others more or less analogous. These quotations prove 
that there are some differences between the creeds 
accepted respectively by the various churches, and even 

5 Fides in regula posita est; habet legem et salutem de observatione 
legis (De praescriptione 14). 


that each creed retains a certain elasticity 8 for a long 
time. But they also bear witness that all the churches 
now have their rule of faith and their baptismal creed. 
And this is very important, because the articles of these 
creeds serve, as it were, as themes for meditation con- 
cerning the Christian faith, and in order that dogmas 
may gush forth it is enough for theologians to delve into 

Naturally the central point of all this theorizing is 
questions connected with Christology, and its evolution 
determines everything else. Without entering here into 
useless detail, let us note these three main points: (1) in 
theory the faith did not compromise upon the funda- 
mental point of monotheism; (2) the point of logical 
climax of all inflations of the faith with regard to the 
personality and role of Christ Jesus was his identifica- 
tion with God; (3) there was a converse tendency to 
define in three persons, ever more differentiated as to 
characteristics, i.e., becoming more and more distinct, the 
three terms laid down in the creed: Father, Son and 
Spirit. And thus it can be said that the faith clung with 
increasing firmness to contradictory propositions. 

In seeking to escape from this difficulty, common sense 
could take its choice between two solutions only. The 
faithful could openly abandon monotheism and resign 
themselves to tritheism; or they could renounce the dis- 
tinction of persons in the One God and fall into modalism, 
i.e., regard each of the persons as simply a modality, as 
one of the main aspects of the unique Divine Being. 
Now the majority of Christians did not wish to 
choose. Accordingly they tried to maintain, at one and 
the same time, the indivisible oneness of God and the 
existence of three distinct persons in him. Out of this 
paradox innumerable discussions arose, in the course of 

* The Apostles' Creed has been altered many times in order to bar 
the way to some heresy or other. To get an idea of the elasticity of 
which I have spoken, it is enough to compare three references in 
Tertullian's De virginibus velandis 1 ; Adversus Praxeam 2 ; De 
praescriptione 13. 

154 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

which problems and difficulties multiplied thick and fast, 
which caused enormous trouble in the churches. It was 
somewhere about the fifth century before these disturb- 
ances subsided, engulfed in theological formulas unin- 
telligible to reason. 

In the course of the second century it came to be held 
that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, by special, though 
direct, generation; that he also is God, and the active 
agent in the organization of the world by the will of the 
Father and the assistance of the Holy Spirit. The ortho- 
dox view of the relation of the Son to the Father tends to 
shape itself by repulsing all three of as many different 
interpretations of this relation. First of these is the 
adoptionist theory, clearly propounded in Eome by Theo- 
dosius at the end of the second century. According to it 
the man Jesus had been, as it were, adopted by God as his 
son, through a sort of embodiment of the Logos which his 
peculiar virtues had earned for him. The second, or the 
modalist theory, assumed that God, essentially one, made 
himself manifest in various characters such as creator, 
savior, inspirer, whilst remaining himself through it 
all; so that, strictly speaking, one might say that the 
Father had suffered the Passion at the same time as the 
Son and the Holy Spirit. This was taught by a certain 
Praxeas in Eome about 190 a.d. Thirdly, there was the 
Gnostic theory, which appeared in too many versions to 
be reduced to a formula, though we may fairly say that it 
represented Christ as a divine being, an aeon, inter- 
mediate between divine perfection and human imperfec- 
tion. The Gnostic sects usually agree with the Docetics, 
which means, I repeat, that they considered Christ's 
human life to be a transit through the flesh, human in 
appearance only. 

The disputes which these Christological differences 
engender seem confusing to us. They seem so far 
removed from any reasonably conducted discussions to 
which we are accustomed that we sometimes find it diffi- 
cult to take them seriously. We must not stop short at 
this impression, however ; they were of very great impor- 


tance because they obliged common everyday faith to 
scrutinize its real possibilities and to define itself more 
sharply. The fact should not be overlooked that most 
of the dogmas are formed and fashioned by hammer 
strokes of negations and anathemas: the opinion which 
prevails and is avowed is, by definition, that which is 
not condemned, or the opposite of the one rejected. The 
reasoning processes employed are borrowed from the 
sophistry and formal dialectic of Greece; the concepts 
which by degrees are superimposed upon the earlier 
beliefs, transforming them into dogmas, are taken from 
Hellenistic metaphysics and are expressed in formulas 
fashioned by the help of its vocabulary. 

This evolution naturally met with opposition. Some 
adhere to the older forms of the Apostolic faith and the 
traditions of primitive Judeo-Christianity. They are 
probably direct descendants of the first Palestinian con- 
verts, for they are still located for some time yet beyond 
the Jordan, especially in the district in which the Chris- 
tians who fled from Jerusalem at the time of the great 
Jewish revolt in 66 a.d. had taken refuge. Very soon the 
Hellenist churches accuse them of thinking "poorly" of 
the Lord and despise them, calling them Ebionites 
(Ebionim means "the poor"). We already know that in 
Justin's time their salvation was called in question, and 
the day draws near when they will be unanimously con- 
sidered as heretics in the Church at large. Actually, 
they are only loiterers who persist in preserving 
beliefs that are out of date, which cannot be adapted 
to the Greek milieu. Fairly strong opposition is per- 
ceptible also to the theological idea of the Logos, which 
prepares the way for the dogma of the Trinity and on 
which it is finally established. But the Alogi (as these 
reactionaries are called) have no more chance than the 
Ebionites of stemming the current which is bearing the 
Christian faith toward the formation of a metaphysical 
system of dogmatics which becomes more and more com- 
plicated and more and more remote from the basic state- 
ments of the Apostles. 

156 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

At the end of the second century this process of dog- 
matizing has been only roughly sketched out, but its 
tendencies are already very perceptible and will not alter 
materially. From that date the Christian hope has 
changed into the Christian religion — the religion of which 
Jesus Christ is the real God. It is definitely dissociated 
from Judaism, for which it not only does not profess any 
filial feeling but abjures and utters maledictions upon it 
as the most intractable enemy of the Truth. 


Yet another trait bears witness to the running of 
Christianity into the molds of an autonomous and exclu- 
sive religion, namely, a higher and ever more momentous 
development of ecclesiasticism. I mean by this that from 
the religious point of view the individual tends more and 
more to be lost in the community. He appears to be sub- 
ject in all the important acts of his life to the direction 
or, at any rate, the influence of the persons who are the 
constituted authorities of the Church and custodians of 
the rites which convey the action exerted by the presence 
of the Lord in the midst of his worshipers and effect a 
veritable union between them and him. We must not be 
premature or over definite in speaking of a sacrament. 
Especially must the term not be applied indiscriminately 
to all the customs practiced by the ancient Church 
through the mediation of the bishop, for instance, on the 
marriage or the death of the faithful. It is certainly a 
true inference, nevertheless, from the mere fact that 
there is a ritual with regard to them, that these customs 
tend to become sacraments, i.e., mysterious operations in 
which there is a spontaneous outflow of special graces. 

Note has already been taken of how baptism became a 
complex ritual and a well-defined sacrament. Less 
rapidly, but yet promptly, two ancient usages that form 
part of ecclesiastical practice evolve until they acquire 
the same status — the Eucharist and penance. 

Changes took place in the Eucharistic reunion as it was 


observed by the primitive community, and it became in 
the course of the second century the Mass, i.e., an ordered 
assemblage of readings, prayers in common, exhortations 
and hymns, the culminating point of which was marked 
by the consecration of the Eucharistic elements and the 
communion. There is still a lack of unanimity as to the 
consummate significance and the exact formalities which 
these rites assume in that remote period of Christianity. 
Only recently there have been long discussions upon the 
question whether the ecclesiastical block used for the 
consecration was an altar or merely a table. At any rate 
it is certain that the Eucharist was henceforth considered 
a "mystery" which was a means of communion with their 
Lord for the faithful, in the conception of it which was 
already paramount in Paul 's doctrine. The sacramental 
elements of bread and wine are regarded as supernatural 
sustenance which except at great personal peril can be 
received only by those who come to it in a special spiritual 

And since in this rite the ancient root idea of divine 
communion as a process of absorption of the god is in 
close alliance with the remembrance of the death of the 
god, and the belief in the redeeming power of this death, 
the thought of sacrifice also in its turn inevitably enters 
into the transaction. This is bound to take place because 
all the religions of the regions in which Christianity 
acquired its form are sacrificial, and it is difficult to dis- 
abuse men's minds of a notion so universally accepted. 
The idea of the mystic reenactment of the death of the 
god in a mode and manner more or less analogous so 
deeply implanted in the worship of most of the redeem- 
ing deities, is another contributing cause. Be it well 
understood, the point at issue is indeed no longer that 
the Eucharistic union is a case of commemorating the 
initial redeeming sacrifice carried out on Calvary. If the 
Eucharist were no more than that, it would have no more 
value than a mere symbol. The issue drawn now is over 
the interpretation of it as a sacrifice in which the god 
becomes the voluntary victim over again, while simul- 

158 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

taneously receiving homage through the oblation. The 
outcome of this sacrifice is the generation of a mysterious 
and magical dynamic force which becomes the source of 
mystic benefits of inestimable value to all the participants. 
It has been rightly said that the acceptance of this idea of 
the Eucharist was equivalent to the introduction into 
Christianity of a "bit of paganism" — the paganism of 
the Mysteries. 

Consequences, both for practice and dogma, which are 
of the highest importance, follow in its wake. 

In the Oriental cults of the gods who die and rise again, 
liturgical stress is sometimes laid in the celebration upon 
the death and sometimes upon the resurrection of the 
Soter, but rarely, as far as we can judge, upon both to 
the same extent. In the primitive Christianity of the 
Twelve, first place is given to the resurrection, because it 
is presented as the guarantee of the great hope: the 
speedy return of Christ and the inauguration of the 
Kingdom. Since by degrees the postponement of the 
parousia renders expectation concerning it as a rule less 
insistent, the significance for the faith of the Lord's 
resurrection is transposed, as it were. From serving as 
the guarantee of the near approach of the Kingdom it 
passes over into an assurance of the resurrection of the 
faithful when time shall be no more. In Paul's mind 
this is the part it already plays. 7 On the other hand, 
the Eucharist takes on deeper significance in proportion 
as speculation thinks over and amplifies its thought 
regarding the incarnation and redemption through the 
cross. Thus it is that Paul, who characterizes all his 
preaching as "discourse concerning the cross," supplies 
the primitive tradition concerning the Last Supper with 
the accretions necessary to make this meal a realization 
in advance of the mystery made explicit in the Passion, 
which in its turn the Eucharist is deemed to go on 
expressing indefinitely. In this way it becomes the cen- 
tral liturgical act of Christian worship and the prime 
source of the grace of the Lord, placed by him at the 

7 I Cor. xv. 12 et seq. 


disposal of the community which calls upon his 

It becomes all this only because implanted in the Chris- 
tian consciousness is (1) the conviction that the Lord 
is in person present in the Eucharistic assembly, in a 
contact direct and a communion immediate with his fol- 
lowers, and also (2) a notion of what we call "transub- 
stantiation. " 8 The point to be understood is that the 
consecration pronounced upon them effects an alteration 
of the bread into the flesh and the wine into the blood of 
Jesus in such a way that the consumption of the conse- 
crated elements constitutes both a material and spiritual 
interfusion of Lord and Christian, and in the form which 
the Lord himself had indicated as appropriate to the ful- 
filment of the mystery. 

These ceremonial enactings of dogma assuredly do not 
achieve their finished formula in their first efforts, and 
the passages in which we first find them referred to are 
by no means free from doubt and ambiguity ; it would be 
surprising if that were not so. However, if the theory 
in favor of the nature of the Eucharist at the end of the 
second century has not yet fully won the day, the quar- 
ters in general from which the elements of victory will 
be derived are already definitely perceptible. 

Penance is evidently in an earlier stage of growth at 
this same epoch, but its approaching development can be 
sensed equally plainly. 

The matter at issue here is not the penitence which the 
sinner is able to carry on in private when he begins to 
repent of his slips, nor of the moral amendment which 
should be its outcome for him. These several procedures 

8 Cf. I Cor. xi. 23 et seq. I do not mean to say that Paul himself 
inrvented the formula which contains both the affirmation that the 
consecrated bread is the body "which is given for you" and the cup 
that of "the New Covenant in my blood," and the order to "do this" 
(i.e., repeat over the elements, bread and wine, the same words and 
gestures) "in remembrance of me." I believe that the main inflation of 
the Eucharist which this formula implies was the work of the Hellen- 
istic community in which the Apostle was trained, and that it was 
transmitted to him as "the word of the Lord." 

160 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

are obligatory upon all Christians and, ever since the 
teaching of Jesus himself, they form the core of practical 
Christian morality. In so far as a man's backslidings 
are not publicly known and cause no offense, they affect 
his own conscience alone. It is quite otherwise with fail- 
ings which may happen to betray to the brethren a lapse 
which is a source of disquietude over his salvation as 
well as a bad example to those who are not firmly 
established in the faith. In very early days, therefore, 
the community deemed itself bound to a twofold duty 
when confronted by flagrant offenses : to set the offender 
right with a brotherly warning, and to take precautions 
that his sin should not harm others. Thus arose the 
necessity of settling upon an ecclesiastical discipline to 
prescribe the atonement for a public lapse, which severs 
the notorious sinner from the congregation and fellow- 
ships him again only when he has made amends. This 
discipline acquires very soon the appearance of a collec- 
tion of rites, following out the tendency which affects all 
the actions of the Church. By reason of the importance 
(both for the guilty and for the community) of the place 
acquired by penance in the Christian life, it is inevitable 
that its administration should acquire the value and the 
meaning also of a sacrament. It is a sacrament which 
restores to the penitent upon pardon his capacity to 
receive afresh the saving graces which are granted to the 
community of " Saints." 

At the end of the second century the ritual regulation 
of penance has already undergone development to a 
point of considerable precision, but, to tell the truth, the 
theology of it as a sacrament does not seem to have been 
even outlined. It is, however, certain that from that time 
such a theology appears to be a coming necessity and 
that it exists potentially in the rites entrusted to the 
ecclesiastical authorities to bind and unbind, in earth as 
in heaven. 

If the texts available at the beginning of the third 
century be examined impartially, not the smallest trace 
of the existence of the other four sacraments will be 


found which in the course of time the Church will settle 
upon — confirmation, orders, matrimony and extreme 
unction. I do not mean to say that it is impossible for 
us to perceive germs of them in various practices already 
used in the liturgy, but I maintain that the Christians in 
those days had no idea of them. 

Henceforth Christianity has settled down into an orig- 
inal religion. It has its own dogmatic system, liturgy, 
discipline. However simple they still may be, already 
their main foundations are laid and their chief future 
trends indicated. These are not the outcome of a kind of 
spontaneous generation. On the contrary, it is evident 
that they are the product of a syncretism, of which all 
the elements have been acquired from the Oriental sur- 
roundings — from Israel, from the Mystery-religions and 
Hellenist philosophy. It is by the same syncretistic 
method that all three — dogmatic system, liturgy, dis- 
cipline — will experience the developments which the 
future has in store for them. Little by little they will 
absorb and assimilate (certainly not without some hesi- 
tation in their choice and twinges of pain in the labor of 
adaptation, yet without pause) all the religion living and 
lasting in quality that the Greco-Roman world contains. 
The work is proceeding unconsciously, no doubt, but it 
will go on without any intermission until the day dawns 
when the disintegration cannot be disputed of all the 
religious societies from which the Christian faith and 
liturgy have drained away their substance. 



The success of Christianity was impeded, and even 
appears for a time to be compromised by the violent 
hostility which the Roman government and pagan society 
displayed toward it. This hostility found outlet in what 
are called the "persecutions." * 

For the quarrels between Christianity and State, each 
of the opponents share in the responsibility. The earliest 
Christians not only believed the end of the world to be 
imminent, but they desired it. Naturally they disengaged 
themselves from the cares and duties of earthly life, and 
in their hearts the love of the heavenly Jerusalem seri- 
ously infringed upon their loyalty to the Roman state. 
Military service was hateful to them because it involved 
concessions to idolatry, and they also loathed war- 
fare. Participation in civic service seemed to them 
superfluous. Preeminently, they obstinately refused 
to take part in any of the loyalist demonstrations 
which the imperial government demanded, because 
pagan religious ceremonies formed part of them all. 

1 Xiie persecutions have been tbe subject of frequent studies. 
L" hist aire des persecutions of Paul Allard, esteemed in Catholic circles, 
lacks critical force. The following may be read with profit : Bouchg- 
Leclercq, L' intolerance reliyieuse et la politique (Paris, 1911) ; L. 
Hardy Canfleld, The Early Persecutions of the Christians (New York, 
1913), which indicates the sources and often gives them in detail; 
E. T. Merrill, Essays in Early Christian History (London, 1914), which 
deals with both the first and second centuries; A. Manaresi, L'impero 
romano e il christianesimo (Turin, 1914), which treats the problem 
intelligibly as a whole, and contains all the bibliographical helps nec- 
essary. The best general book is Linsenmayer's Die Bekampfwig des 
Christentums (lurch den Romischen Staat Ms sum Tode des Kaisers 
Julian (Munich, 1905). 



Their religious conscience showed itself to be of a very I 
ticklish cast that obliged them frequently to turn their 1 
backs with a non possumus on the most ordinary require- I 
ments of civic life. The pagan state could not allow a 
group of men to act that way, who constantly increased 
in number, and whose motto seemed to be the words of 
Tertullian: secessi de populo, "I have withdrawn from 
society.' ' 

All the faithful, it is true, did not manifest such 
uncompromising nonconformity with regard to the claims 
of civic life a s Tertul lian, for that uncouth defender of 
the faith had to con fess tn at some Ch ristians ser ved in 
ih^_arv[}j~^ru\ h glcTpublic offices^ In tne opinion, how- 
ever, of the rulers silent surface loyalty of this kind was 
not enough to counterbalance the embarrassing demon- 
strations of the fanatics, or, at any rate, the placarding 
of headstrong resolutions, announcements put out in 
advance by them. Christians of this stamp inevitably 
compromised all their fellows, because they were the 
only ones who came before the magistrates to be 

On the other hand, while the State exercised a real 
and wide tolerance with respect to non-official religions, 
it nevertheless enforced certain restrictions which it 
believed indispensable to its own existence. For instance, 
it demanded a show of deference from all forms of 
worship to the official cult, and upon occasion it required 
every citizen to be willing to attest his patriotism by 
taking an oath "by the genius" (tutelar divinity) of the 
Emperor, while participating in a sacrifice in honor of 
the numen Augusti (godhead of Augustus). Moreover, 
the State showed much distrust of the superstitions 
"which vex the shallow minds of men" so that from its 
standpoint, the Christian faith, Oriental in its origin and 
mystic and excitable, was foreign to all that Roman cus- 
tom regarded as a religion. Since it had neither temples 
nor the image of any god, it seemed, as Pliny said, to be 
"a distorted ill mannered superstition" (superstitionem 
pravam et immodicam). Finally, the State had a greai/ 

164 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

dread of secret societies, and its police knew that the 
Christians held gatherings at night without permission. 

The Christians considered there was no misdemeanor 
involved in frustrating the snares of the demon con- 
cealed under the cover of idols, nor in resisting his sug- 
gestions, nor in sacrificing everything out of fidelity to 
God, nor in assembling together to return thanks and 
make common intercession to him. Their consciences 
were opposing a victorious vindication to the demands 
of the State and the obligations of the law. Tertullian 
was expressing the feelings of the best of them when he 
wrote: Legis injustae honor nullus, ''no one is bound to 
respect an unjust law," and naturally it was Christian 
scruples which were to pass judgment upon every law. 
The State cannot countenance such independence. 

The incompatibility perceptible between the standards 
of the State and the Christians made itself manifest, too, 
between the Christians and society in general. They 
respected none of its prejudices, none of its customs, and 
hardly any of its principles. At the end of the second, 
and the opening of the third, centuries, Tertullian could 
describe marriage and the procreation of children as a 
regrettable concession to the claims of the flesh. Spiri- 
tual blessings to him were the only true ones; he con- 
demned all the joys and amusements of life. He shat- 
tered social conventions by mixing master and slave 
together in the same religious groups. Upon the whole 
secular world around him he poured his arrogant 

Naturally Christians were not wanting who were quite 
ready to fall in with the ordinary life, for they all did not 
have the spirit of the martyr within them. Nevertheless, 
the common people usually judged the Church by the 
individuals who forced themselves upon their attention. 
The pagans of the patrician class, in their turn, scented 
danger to themselves, their status and their privileges, 
from claims so revolutionary in appearance. 

It may be imagined that the State and society, unable 
to understand the elements of nobility underlying Chris- 


tian nonconformity, were deeply incensed against them. 
Society held the Christians in abomination, unloading 
all the anti-Jewish calumnies upon them, and the State 
persecuted them. At the end of the second century things 
had reached a point where the clash could be settled only 
by the overthrow of one of the two adversaries. Chris- 
tianity does not indeed appear to be in any condition 
to stand the assault of the public authorities, egged on 
and supported by quasi-general opinion. The learned 
despised the Christians, either because they regarded 
them as backsliding Jews disowned by the Synagogue, or 
else because they did not deign to inquire into their doc- 
trine. They were hated by the common people because 
of their strange way of living and the horrible rumors 
circulated about their gatherings. 2 

Their expression of this hatred in violent outbursts 
was at first the chief cause of the persecutions. The 
magistrates intervened in order to allay the uproar and 
give the blind passion of the populace its sop of gratifi- 
cation ; so they proceeded against people whom on their 
own initiative they would probably have left in peace. 
They knew perfectly well that they were not very dan- 
gerous, and that if their mania for religious uncompro- 
misingness were blameworthy and sometimes even a 
breach of the law they were not guilty of the practice of 
ritual murder or the gross immorality which they were 
taxed with by idle gossip. Nevertheless, the refusal of 
the Christians to ''swear by the genius of the Emperor" 
and to pay homage to his effigy (as to a god) by 
burning a few grains of incense before it, entailed an 
accusation of high treason and the death penalty. For 
this reason the second century had its martyrs, especially 
in Asia Minor, under Trajan, and in Lyons, under 
Marcus Aurelius, in 176. 3 

8 The evil-disposed heaped all the old accusations given currency by 
anti-Semitism upon them : ritual murders and secret orgies, accompanied 
by filthy details. 

3 I am not referring at all to what has been called Nero's persecu- 
tion, for that seems to have been no more than an accidental utilization 
of the popular prejudice to divert suspicion from the Emperor of 
having set fire to Rome in 64 a.d. 

166 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 


Not until the third century did the State begin seri- 
ously to consider the social peril which seemed to be 
wrapped up in Christianity, but from then on it looked 
upon it as a species of anarchy. They were the best 
rulers, most conscious of the duties which their station 
involved and, as we should say, the most patriotic, who 
tand out as the most inveterate enemies of the Christian 
hurches. Emperors like Decius, Valerian, Galerius and 
iocletian, in the second half of the century, very clearly 
display an intention to cut short their propaganda, strip 
them of their clergy and to abet, by the losses due to 
abjurations obtained by means of threats of torture and 
death, the total destruction of the new religion. To 
attain their end, they did not shrink from authorizing 
the most violent coercive measures, nor even numerous 
executions. Charges of breaches of the common law 
were piled up against them to overwhelm the faithful 
such as these: an illicit religion, a secret society, Use 
majeste (crimen majestatis), a refusal to comply with 
military regulations, ignavia, i.e., slackness with regard to 
the duties of public and private life, even magic itself. 
Those cases, however, where the parties thus accused 
were Christians present this peculiarity — the charges) 
were quashed the moment the accused consented to say) 
with his tongue that he abjured his faith. This leads us to 
suppose that it was at bottom the Christian religion itself 
that was being persecuted for its own sake. Some critics 
have even wondered whether, from the time of Nero, it 
had not been by a special law unconditionally forbidden. 
This point has not been proved, but it is by no means 
impossible. In practice, everything nevertheless was 
ordered on the basis that the simple fact of a Christian 
confession implied misdemeanors and crimes punish- 
able with death on their part. Criminal procedure with 
the Romans was habitually harsh. In the trials of charges 
against the Christians it attained its maximum of sever- 
i ity, because with regard to Use majeste the magistrate's 


powers of coercion knew no limits. The most barbarous 
tortures were put in force to extort an abjuration. Natur- 
ally, the personal equation in the case of each particular 
judge might be a source of mitigation or, on the con- 
trary, of aggravation in this dread form of questioning. 

Happily for the Christians, the efforts of the State to I 
exterminate their religion were always disconnected and I 
intermittent ; never, even in the worst days of Diocletian, / 
were they carried out to the bitter end; never were theyj 
long consecutively maintained, so that in the periods 
between crises the Church reformed her ranks. The 
persecutions assuredly did claim their victims, but as far 
as Christians in the mass were concerned they succeeded 
only in forcing temporary apostasies, and sometimes, as 
an offset, in stirring up a contagious enthusiasm. The 
words hurled by Tertullian as a cry of defiance to the 
persecutors: Sanguis martyrum semen christianorum 
("the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Christians") 
have often been quoted. On the whole, they have been 
justified, and the hagiographic documents which are in 
existence afford some strange examples of psychic con- 
tagion. It was above all in the intervals between the 
crises that the Church derived most advantage from the 
testimony of blood in her work of propaganda. 

At the beginning of the fourth century, after the mis- 
carriage of Diocletian's persecution, the State began to 
realize that the Christians were too numerous for violent 
measures henceforth to succeed. Moreover, upon care- 
ful reconsideration of the whole matter, the problems 
raised by them did not seem to present themselves in the 
same terms as during the second century. 

Christianity was no longer to be solely the religion of 1 
the under-privileged; it now had adept members in all 
classes of society. In proportion as the number of believ-j 
ers thus grew, the average of opinion which became estab-j 
lished in the Church was wholly reassuring. Christians I 
no longer expected the end of the world from one day to 
the next; they conformed to current customs and even to' 
current prejudice. Christians joined the army andj 

168 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

\ served in the administration, and the ecclesiastical 
1 authorities made no objection. Christian ethics and 
\ Christian resignation to the world's continuance had 
\ reaffirmed allegiance to all social regulations. Above all, 
a community of believers, united, disciplined and directed 
by leaders whom they obeyed, presented to the State a 
cheering spectacle of order, the product of a well-admin- 
istered government, which already shows signs of 
developing a political consciousness. Finally, the preju- 
dices against Christianity which had been so prevalent 
among the people of the first two centuries had been 
disappearing step by step with the more open life which 
the growth of the Church, facilitated by intervals of 
tolerance, had brought about. It was time for both State 
and Christianity to think of a compromise. 

Circumstances hastened this reconciliation on. 4 In 311, 
the Emperor Galerian, the most active of its persecutors, 
recognizing his measures were futile and forced to yield 
because of the obstacles interposed by the invincible 
determination of the Church, shortly before his death 
made up his mind to tolerate her. His edict of toleration 
very justly gave the Christians the idea that their cause 
j\V'ihad triumphed. On the other hand, in the struggle to 
i y which his death led between many competitors for power, 
-> each of the rivals sought to gain as many partisans as 

possible for himself. The Church embraced the occasion 
/offered to exact compensation for the assistance which 
/her strong position and, above all, her universality, ren- 
dered particularly valuable. Now, among these aspirants 
for the vacant throne was one that had inspired her with 
confidence who already manifested some signs of good 
ill — Constantine. 


4 P. Batiffol's La paix constantinienne et le catholicisme (Paris, 
1914), may well be studied, bearing in mind tbat it is written wholly 
from the Catholic point of view, and that its author tends to apologetics ; 
also T. de Bacci Venuti, Dalla grande persecuzione alia vittoria del 
Cristianesimo (Milan, 1913) ; C. Bush Coleman, Constantine the Great 
and Christianity (New York, 1914), a very good study of sources and 
traditions, with an extensive bibliography ; Ed, Schwartz, Kaiser Con- 
stantin und die Christliche Kirche (Leipzig, 1918), a popular scientific 


He was not yet a Christian, but the form of syncretism 
in religion that he practiced was very liberal. Like his 
father Constantius Chloms, who, it appears had shuffled 
out of enforcing the last edicts of persecution during his 
government of Gaul, he combined respect for the ancient 
religion with a fear of the God of the Christians. More- 
over, his father's court included many of the clergy whom 
he had known well enough to fathom their true position. 
He had learnt that, along with the maintenance of the 
principles which formed the basis of the older Christian- 
ity, in practice, they did not refuse to grant the con- 
cessions indispensable to the State. He realized that 
persecution had not only failed, but that it moreover 
seriously disturbed ordinary life, because the hatred with 
which the Christians had formerly been regarded by the 
nation scarcely existed any longer. They had increased in 
numbers, were better known, and more especially they 
now lived like everybody else. He knew the Church to be 
a very active force, and that all the rulers who had fought 
against her had experienced some misfortune. Finally/ 
he had learnt that his opponent Maxentius, with a 
large and seasoned army, had taken care to invoke 
the aid of all the pagan gods by means of prayers, 
sacrifices and even magic rites. For him, therefore, 
no alternative remained but to make an appeal to the 

Possibly his resolves and his hopes, when they came 
to exteriorize themselves, presented themselves to him in 
the form of a vision to which he supplied the details when 
relating the story of it later. In any case, he was the 
victor, and on that account regarded himself as more or 
less in debt to Christ. Gratitude, faith and policy all 
combined to suggest the Edict of Milan (313), which 
made a place, among the divinities worthy of veneration 
for the mighty God of the Christians, and intended 
to establish in the eyes of the State the equality/ 
of all religions upon a basis of liberty of conscience. V 
But, to tell the truth, the Church would not tolerate any 
such solution, and the State was not able to cling to it. 


170 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 


Although the Christian Church was thus led by force of 
circumstances and by a very practical sense of the real 
issue to accord to the demands of public and social life all 
essential concessions, she had not, for all that, renounced 
her principles. As the depository of divine truth, she 
saw in every pagan an agent of the Evil One, and the 
mere idea of equality of treatment with paganism for 
herself was like an outrage which necessity alone could 
force her to tolerate. Moreover, there was no reason 
why she should not continue to drain the living sap from 
the pagan beliefs, as she had already found it profitable 
to do. On the other hand, the State could hardly cancel 
its old obligation to maintain a close bond between the 
City and its religion. The public safety seemed also to 
require that the government should keep a controlling 
hand over the disputes to which the antagonism of the 
two religions could not fail to lead, and its impartiality 
in that role was bound up with a policy of strict neutral- 
ity. Nevertheless, the rulers did not remain neutral, for 
the power of Christianity, increased tenfold by its vic- 
tory, caught them in its grip and they soon became 
involved. The clerics entangled the rulers almost in 
spite of themselves in their own clergy concerns, obtained 
numerous favors from them, and induced them to take an 
interest in their ecclesiastical success. 

Toward the end of Constantine's reign, the union of 
Church and State, the absorption of paganism by Chris- 
tianity, and its total destruction with the connivance and, 
if necessary, the help of the State, could have been fore- 
seen. This achievement, which was accomplished in the 
course of the fourth century, was subjected to some 
delays. These delays did not arise from any move 
of the Church, who very soon accustomed herself to con- 
sider that it was the duty of the State to come to her aid, 
against heretics and pagans, without foreseeing the state 
of servitude into which she was herself advancing by this 
course. They were due to the action of the emperors 


who, either from hostility, like Julian, or from a sincere 
desire to maintain a balance between the two religions, 
like Valentinian, offered a spirited resistance. With 
Theodosius, through the influence of the first statesman 
that the Church produced, St. Ambrose, archbishop of 
Milan, she attained her aim, and the Christian religion 
acquired the character and status of a State religion, to 
the exclusion of all others.* 

Paganism certainly did not vanish all at once, but it 
offered only a loose and feeble resistance to the method- 
ical attack of the Church and the unrestrained zeal of a 
few bishops and monks who took it upon themselves to 
pursue it unrelentingly. Its disintegration was due not 
only to the loss of the support of the government, which 
left paganism without any central control and split it up 
into many different cults, but above all to the fact that its 
most stubborn adherents looked upon it from such varied 
points of view that they could scarcely present a united 
front in its defense. 

The aristocrats of the older Roman towns, especially 
those of Eome itself, clung to their religious customs 
even more stoutly than to the beliefs of their ancestors, 
because these customs seemed inseparable from their 
family traditions. Their admiration and respect for the 
past felt really at home only in the setting in which that 
past had been lived, and these sentiments constituted a 
very tenacious form of religion because it held fast, as a 
principle of allegiance to a point of honor, as it were, 
and could not be directly assaulted through its convic- 
tions, which were themselves an object of veneration. 
Thus Toxotius, the husband of Paula, believed himself 
bound to remain a pagan, because he maintained that he 
was descended from Eneas. 

Many of these aristocrats shared in a very profound 
and sincere conviction, which has been well expressed by 
the most celebrated among them, the praefectus urbis 
Symmachus, who in his report in the year 384 demanded 
the reinstatement, in the hall where the Roman Senate 
6 Consult Boissier, La fin du paganisme (Paris, 1894). 

172 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

held its sittings, of an ancient statue of Victory which 
the Emperor Gratianus had had removed the preceding 
year. It was not expedient, they were convinced, for men 
to discard religious practices which the experience of 
time had consecrated as of proven efficacy. The Eepublic, 
urged Symmachus, prospered as long as it remained 
faithful to the gods of its ancestors. Only since rever- 
ence for the national deities had wavered had it 
encountered misfortunes and dangers. Critically exam- 
ined, it was assuredly a feeble argument, but from the 
point of view of sentiment it had no need to be weighty 
to appear forcible. When Rome was taken by Alaric in 
410, a loud outcry against Christianity arose from the 
ranks of the pagans who realized their humiliation, and 
St. Augustine does not think that in writing his great 
book, The City of God, he is taking too great pains to 
combat it. 

Let us add that the fundamental leveling tendency of 
Christianity toward social distinctions, whatever its 
compromises in actual practice, called forth little sym- 
pathy from men who still retained some of the pride of 
the great gentes. Obedience to clergy, or bishop, no 
matter what their birth and family station may have 
been, could not be very agreeable to them. 

Little by little, however, this resistance began to yield. 
To begin with, an aristocracy which does not function at 
the same time as a political party finds it difficult to with- 
stand growing government disfavor, and undoubtedly 
tradition capitulates more readily than a stiff religious 
belief — and this particular faith was now almost the 
exception among these aristocrats. 9 Then the misfor- 
tunes of the age, especially in the fifth century, induced 
many of them to take up asceticism which, though not 
exclusively Christian, was much in sympathy, how- 
ever, with Christianity and at this very time in the form 
of monachism was spreading inside it. Lastly, the ladies 

6 The most interesting of these exceptions seems to be Praetextatus, 
an important official of the second half of the century, an ardent 
theologian and a very pious priest of several cults. 


of rank very soon succumbed to the mystic and ascetic 
Christian faith offered them by eloquent and enthusiastic 
monks. The most exalted Christian personages in Rome 
toward the end of the fourth century are Melania, Paula 
and her daughters. All of them are great ladies, whose 
zeal urges them to leave the world and lead the life of 
ascetics. They finally settled in Palestine, the one under 
the guidance of Rufinus, the others under that of Jerome, 
both of them monks. 

Side by side with the aristocracy of birth, the aris- 
tocracy of the intellect for a long time refuses its adhe- 
sion to the Christian faith, and often, indeed, it pretends 
to treat it as beneath its notice. In place of the family 
traditions of the aristocrats, the intellectuals have a 
superstitious reverence for Hellenism. I mean by this an 
admiration of Greek thought and literature which is more 
sentimental than aesthetic. All Hellenic culture is really 
steeped in paganism, inseparable indeed from the ancient 
myths and the gods of old. Moreover, the Neoplatonic 
philosophy, under the influence of Porphyrius and still 
more of Jamblichus, became a liberal syncretism or com- 
posite in which metaphysics, theurgy or magic, and the 
doctrine of the Mysteries are all close neighbors. It 
offers all the required materials for the reinterpretation 
of the myths and the inflation of the gods. The Mysteries 
themselves, are still sturdy and add to this powerful 
composite their sensual emotions, their hopes and conso- 
lations. A superabundance of benefits is at times harm- 
ful. In the mass they may overwhelm man, who cannot 
enjoy them unless he can dominate them. When it comes 
to classification these ideas, doctrines, theories, symbols, 
customs, traditions form such a confused mixture that 
no one can combine the whole into a true-born religion. 
Those who, like the Emperor Julian, attempt to do it, 
achieve only a pietism which is certainly sincere, but 
vague, entirely personal and really incommunicable. 
From the "common heap" offered to him each one makes 
his choice, and carves out a religion that suits him. At 
the most there are only a few schools of philosophy 

174 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

which have neither the cohesion nor the overflowing 
vitality of the Christian churches. For this reason the 
effort to restore the ancient cults, attempted by Julian 
during his brief occupancy of the imperial throne 
(360-363), had no chance of success. 

The " Apostate" was a thoroughgoing pietist and a 
fanatical Hellenist. As a philosopher his thinking was 
obscure, and his syncretism gathered as best he could 
do so around the central idea of ardent worship of the 
Sun, could scarcely pass for a creed or doctrine. He him- 
self expressed with emphasis and a certain amount of wit 
his strong antipathy for the "Nazarenes." All his 
sophistry, however, was unable to draw up a coherent 
system of dogmatics which alone might make possible 
of success an attempt on his part to overthrow their 
system. So, too, as a part of his policy he endeavored 
in vain to create one church and one clergy out of the 
scattered priests and the strange rites of all the cults 
which he would have liked to unify. Through the force 
of circumstances, he was reduced to a distant and very 
middling imitation of Christianity, which henceforward 
gave expression to the religious sentiments alive in this 
age and the ritual customs really adapted to their needs. 
From our point of view, while his campaign commands 
our respect for its undoubted sincerity, it appears there- 
fore like a somewhat foolish anachronism. His imperial 
officials made an outward show of following their master's 
direction. He complained of their lack of zeal. The 
Christians stood fast. Since Julian had neither the time 
nor, probably, any disposition to return to the coercive 
measures of Diocletian, although the Church has never 
been sparing in her hatred for him, really there were only 
some trifling annoyances chargeable against him. 7 

Proportionately with the weakening of the pagan cul- 
ture (both because it produced nothing new that was 

7 J. Geffcken, Kaiser Jwlianus (Leipzig, 1914) ; A. Rostagni, Gudliano 
VApostate (Torino, 1920) ; P. Allard's Julien VApostai (1900-1902) 
betrays the same faults as the author's Histoire des Persecutions, a lack 
of critical judgment Ixu the treatment of the documents, very dangerous 
in this case. 


really enduring, and lived on the past, and because 
Christian dogmatics more and more completely absorbed 
the life and substance remaining in Greek thought), the 
intellectuals yielded by slow degrees and individually 
became members of the Christian body. Their attacks, 
which are of no interest save to scholars, had to be con- 
ducted with caution in order not to run counter to public 
authority. They were powerless to prevail against the 
contagious religious enthusiasm and the numerous 
urgent rejoinders of the Christians. During the fourth 
and fifth centuries, an extensive literature of apologetics 
was produced which squarely confronted all the argu- 
ments of paganism. Its lines of reasoning are not at 
bottom better than theirs, but neither are they any worse, 
and at any rate the advantage is theirs that the positions 
defended are not reactionary. The Christian apologists 
profess to preserve that which is worthy of being retained 
in every domain from the traditions of the past, while 
at the same time they find a place for it in the great 
current of religious thought and the tendencies of fideistic 
sentiment which are apparently carrying all men with 
them in those days. 

The most stubborn resistance comes from the country 
people, the pagani, 8 through their attachment to highly 
specialized minor local deities and to ancient customs 
intrenched by superstition. Their uncouthness renders 
the evangelization of them a somewhat dangerous matter, 
inasmuch as it is difficult to persuade them to adopt dif- 
ferent views save by impressing their imagination by 
a bold attack upon their sanctuaries, their idols, their 
sacred trees and miraculous springs. As the faith radi- 
ates from the towns, it soon finds in the rural monasteries 
help which is very valuable and well situated to per- 
form good service. In many cases it succeeds in impos- 
ing itself upon these men who live off the land by the 

8 The word paganus means a dweller in the country (pagus). It has 
now been demonstrated that the hostility of the peasantry to Chris- 
tianity gave the meaning of "pagan" to paganus. This seems to date 
from the first half of the fourth century and it gradually becomes 
general in the second half. 

176 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

gradual penetration of daily pressure; in others, it con- 
verts with one stroke a village or even an extensive dis- 
trict. The method oftenest used is the method of sub- 
stitution. Existing legends and superstitions are turned 
to its own account, which the worship of the saints 
renders a fairly easy operation. Saints exchange places 
with the well-known little divinities to whom the peasants 
are so profoundly attached because they demand from 
them so many trifling daily services. By this method 
the country parts are, at any rate in appearance, in the 
way of becoming Christianized. At the end of the fifth 
century this work is already far advanced. 

Moreover, from the very beginning the issue of the 
mortal combat begun in the first twenty-five years of the 
fourth century could have been foreseen. The abiding 
success of the Christian faith in the great urban centers 
and in the official world, the organization achieved by 
the Church in contrast with the inability to act together 
of her scattered adversaries, and above all the vital 
energy pulsating within her, compared with the sinking 
slowly to their deaths of the old pagan religions were all 
tokens of the coming triumph of Christianity for which 
they prepared the way. 



This triumph which is conspicuously attested by the 
conversion of the Roman Empire, in the fourth century, 
marks an important stage in the evolution of Christian- 
ity. Victory, moreover, had been purchased at so great 
a cost, that it may be boldly affirmed that believers belong- 
ing to the Apostolic era would have regarded it as a 
catastrophe. The excuse for the Christians of Constan- 
tine's day is that no other choice offered itself as far as 
conditions of settlement were concerned. 

At the very first glance we realize that it was not, to 
discriminate carefully, the disciples of Christ who van- 
quished the hostility of the State and moderated its 
opinions, it was those who ruled and acted for them; it 
was the Church. The advantages which the uneducated 
laity derived from the Constantinian compromise were 
one of the results of the agreement reached by two 
different sets of authorities, two governments, each of 
them instinctively seeking its own advantage first of all. 

The clergy, now secure as to the future, finish the work 
of Church organization in the fourth century. The estab- 
lishment of metropolitans (who are, in effect, arch- 
bishops) and of primates (corresponding with patriarchs) 
tightens up and correlates its hierarchy better, carrying 
it by degrees toward a pontifical monarchy in form. 
The multiplication of synods and councils imparts firm- 
ness and precision to the idea already held by the clergy 
of the catholicity essential to the faith, and at the same 
time allows them to make their discipline more uniform, 
and give their dogmatics wider scope. The whole body 
of Christians is animated by a mighty impulse to put its 
energy at work, and it seems to attract to itself and 


178 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

make part of its own substance all that the pagan world 
still preserves of its vital elements. Even the liturgy in 
which it clothes and adorns itself assumes a more spacious 
and brilliant aspect ; it confiscates to its own uses all the 
pomp and dignity of the ancient cults which do not clash 
absolutely with the fundamental tenets of the faith. 

From another point of view the Christian Church, 
which in relation to the State is the personification of 
the entire Christian population, is inclined to model her 
administrative organization upon that of the State and 
to accept its sub-divisions, county and municipal, as the 
boundaries of its dioceses. She tends to go further and 
become one of the two great branches of public admin- 
istration, without relinquishing her own liberties and 
privileges which if need be she well knows how to defend. 
Due to the reflex influence of the mingling inevitable 
with officials of all kinds and of her conquests among the 
ranks of the aristocracy, a disposition to govern and 
manage develops within the Christian Church which 
separates her more and more from the laity and at the 
same time inclines her more and more to form political 
alliances. In this way the Church loses her independence ; 
and more : the spirit of the age seeps into her so much 
that at last the full significance of her raison d'etre and 
her mission becomes obscured. 

That which strikes the least prejudiced of observers 
in the triumph of Christianity is first of all the power 
of sacerdotalism. It seems as if the whole life of the 
Church of Christ were contained in the consciences of 
the bishops. Next the huge development of theology 
is noticeable. The leaven in all this speculative research 
is always the Greek thought, which reacts upon the faith 
as the age does upon manners, or the State upon the 
Church. Christians drink deep at this abundant spring 
of metaphysical ideas, either directly from the writings 
of the Neoplatonists, whom they both despise and follow, 
or indirectly from the works of Origen. They may admire 
or condemn him, but his learned detractors exploit him 
almost as much as his admirers do. The fourth and 


fifth centuries, therefore, witness the most extraordinary- 
conflict between transcendental doctrines, which either 
clash, and destroy each other or else combine. Under 
these conditions the thought of a few learned doctors 
guides the timid and unlearned. For instance, it may 
be a question (a) of determining the relation of the 
nature of the Son to the Father in the Trinity, or (b) 
of deciding in conformity to what modality the human 
nature and the divine nature that the person of Christ 
possessed equally act in perfect concord, or (c) if the 
Virgin Mary has any claim or not to the title of ' ' Mother 
of God." Orthodoxy is really the opinion on which the 
majority in the Councils can get together, and that 
majority is but rarely strong enough to impose definite 
solutions promptly upon the whole Church. The Church 
as a rule makes up its mind only after hesitations which 
are perplexing to the simple, who, as is well known, 
prefer to believe that the truth is one, eternal and hence 

The fresh element which appears in the doctrinal con- 
flicts of the fifth and sixth centuries is not the disagree- 
ments as facts, nor is it the originality of the questions 
then at issue. In the three previous centuries difference 
of opinion has been the very condition of the progress 
of the faith, and like sustenance to it. Many of the 
questions also which form the subject of the later dis- 
putes to which I have alluded were raised long before. 
That which does surprise us somewhat is the wide range, 
the rancor, and the endlessness of the battles. Logic 
propounds problems which arise out of each other in a 
long succession. In truth, Christian dogma, which the 
third century left in too unfinished a state to satisfy the 
normal life of faith, is passing through an inevitable 
phase of further evolution. Choice must be made on 
more than one point between several tendencies still ill 
determined and indefinite. As soon as a desire arises to 
sift them and get them less loosely defined, discussions 
start, and the more important the subject, the more 
acrimonious are the disputes. As the scheme of dog- 

180 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

matics becomes more complicated, so, too, the greater is 
the difficulty experienced in coming to an agreement. 
Sometimes the disputants lose all sense of proportion 
both in word and gesture, and the spectacle which the 
sudden turns and vicissitudes of the Arian or Monophy- 
site controversy afford is really something extraordinary. 
Men like Eusebius of Nicomedia, the Most Christian 
Emperor Constantius, or the three terrible patriarchs of 
Alexandria — Theophilus, Cyril and Dioscorus — do not 
create the impression that they are very strongly attached 
to the great Gospel commandment, which Jesus is 
reputed to have said contained all the Law (and, conse- 
quently, one would imagine, all the theology) — to love 
God and one's neighbor supremely. 

It seems as if the Church has turned all those forces 
which persecution no longer required to be stretched in 
her defense against herself and is tearing her own body 
to pieces. In reality, however, she is passing through a 
crisis of growth. The outcome of her "growing pains" 
will be an orthodoxy which will perpetuate the victory 
of the mass over the individual, and will lay the 
foundation for the necessity of intolerance in God's 
name. Theology, which is the science of subtle dis- 
tinctions and of conciliation, thrives upon all these 
controversies, and through them it becomes in the end 
of frightful importance in the Church. It tends to make 
religion become scholarly ; the formula prescribed settles 
down into a tyranny, the initiative native to religious 
sentiment grows feeble, and personal enthusiasm renders 
one suspect of heresy. Henceforth doctrine will take 
control of faith, an event of capital importance in the 
history of the Christian life. 

It is worthy of note, moreover, that all the great dog- 
matic controversies which disturb these two centuries 
are waged in the East. The Western world does not 
understand them. It has no interest of its own in them 
and does not take sides unless they seem to menace 
Catholic unity or to compromise the "Apostolic tradi- 
tion." Of its own accord the Western portion of the 


Empire fixes its attention only upon practical questions 
like the following: How is man's moral nature con- 
stituted, and how much may be expected from it ? What 
is sin, and how may it be avoided? What succor may 
be looked for from grace, and to what extent is it neces- 
sary to salvation! Is man possessed of freewill, or is he 
the predestined agent of decisions which God has willed 
for him? The heresies known as Priscillianism (in the 
fourth century) and Pelagianism (in the fifth) sprang 
from these problems, which deal more with morals than 
with theology. 

Nevertheless, the Catholic idea is acquiring acceptance 
in a more and more sharply defined form ; the conviction 
that there can be but one faith and one Church is becom- 
ing intrenched. As a corollary the opinion gains ground 
that outside this one Church there is no salvation, and 
that she demands not only a free and filial submission 
ready to comply with her authorized decrees, but also 
assent which is inner and complete to her doctrine. The 
proof is still in evidence that the doctrine which is form- 
ing through much groping among violent contradictions 
and little by little becoming fixed continues to be but a 
theological syncretism or composite. Side by side with 
the data of the Apostolic faith are fundamentally dis- 
similar religious and philosophical ideas borrowed from 
the complex surroundings in which Christianity has 
been living its life, and a union is effected between them 
by arguments very similar to those in use by Greek 
sophistry, concealed beneath more or less ingenious 
formulas, but, at bottom, empty and deceptive. In this 
work the influence can be specially traced of the aris- 
tocrats of the intellect, the men of letters and the phi- 
losophers whom the faith has won over. I must repeat 
that in adopting Christianity, these men have not divested 
themselves either of the substance or even more par- 
ticularly the method and forms of speculation which they 
had hitherto used. In recent years research has endeav- 
ored to prove that most of the Greek Fathers of the 
fourth century thought, argued, spoke and wrote accord- 

182 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

ing to the rules and methods and customs of pagan 
rhetoric taught in the schools of dialectics, and it 
has absolutely succeeded. It is even curious to ob- 
serve the extent to which they have become the slaves 
of the devices which, openly, they profess to despise. The 
origin of the material they use in adapting the Christian 
faith to the needs of their own thinking is the very same 
as the forms of thought which they cannot discard : both 
come from the schools of philosophy which they formerly 

It will appear to anyone who will look more closely 
into these matters that the people at large who seem 
submissive to their clergy representative and ready to 
accept their rule of faith at his hands are really far less 
passive than they seem. Moreover, it is in their religious 
life that the principle must be sought which is at the 
bottom of most of the transformations that Christianity 
has undergone. Such persons neither reflect nor reason ; 
they pay no attention to the contradictions or even the 
absurdities into which they may fall, but they are quick 
to divine and they are easily moved. Their faith is 
intense and spontaneous and its demands for self-expan- 
sion are imperious. The objects dear to it must undergo 
inflation and their number be increased. On the other 
hand, ignorant people that they are, with no way of giv- 
ing the suggestions of their surroundings the slip, or of 
discarding the habits acquired by heredity, their whole 
existence is still permeated through and through by 
paganism. Upon paganism, therefore, they will draw 
to obtain the elements of inflation, upon ancestral cus- 
toms, time-honored rites almost bred in the bone, upon 
life-long beliefs and superstitions, which have come to be 
no longer distinguishable from their own immediate reli- 
gious thought. Syncretism desired Jesus to be God, and 
God to remain One, at the same time ; this double desire 
became the source of legends which made the birth and 
existence of Christ the most marvelous of miracles. With 
the worship of Mary it reinstates a genuine goddess in its 
religion and, upon the addition of the worship of the 


Saints, this becomes a veritable polytheism, the elements 
of which are often taken from the legends of the pagan 
heroes. Naively convinced that nothing is too good for 
God, it desires to find in "the house of the Lord" all the 
old idolatrous splendor of the pagan ceremonies. With 
its confidence in the value of gesture and formula, it 
reintroduces all the magic of the Mysteries, and even 
worse, that of Orphism, which is the Mystery of the 
populace. Naturally, this bent of the popular faith puts 
the theologians to a good deal of embarrassment, but it 
is their business to extricate themselves by discovering, 
cost what it may, the compromises or adjustments which 
may be necessary. 

Moreover, from the fourth century onward, means of 
expression which are very effective are placed at the 
disposal of the popular religion, because the monks from 
this time begin to multiply. Not all assuredly are men 
of the people, for the monastery soon attracts many of 
the sensitive souls whom the world intimidates or har- 
rows, many high-hearted Christians who more or less 
clearly understand that the Gospel code of morality, 
which is dear to them, ill accords with the exigencies of 
the age, and that the Christianity which suits their world 
in general is not Christianity according to the mind of 
Jesus. In the ranks of the monks, however, these form 
but a minority. Their ardent piety, moreover, in per- 
petual dread of temptation, is naturally favorably dis- 
posed to the inflated conclusions reached by the faith of 
the simple-minded, and derives fresh comfort from them; 
it often puts strong props under them, gives them its 
encouragement and perfects them. A St. Jerome is a prey 
to the rebelliousness of the flesh which he seeks the means 
of vanquishing both by mortifications and by meditating 
upon the mystery of the virginity of Mary. This will 
lead him not only to accept it at the full scope already 
accorded it by the popular religion in affirming the per- 
petual virginity of the Mother of Jesus, but, as it were, 
to carry it a step beyond by propounding, as a corollary, 
an affirmation of the perpetual virginity of Joseph. The 

184 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

majority of the monks came from the people. Their com- 
mon fund of religions passion, its intensive cultivation 
by them, the authority derived from the saintliness of 
their lives, the wild stubborn vigor of their asseverations, 
the genuine moral greatness of the most notable ones, 
whose glory shed luster upon them all because their rule 
of life placed them all upon the same footing — all these 
things redounded greatly to their advantage with ordi- 
nary believers. Much against the grain, they also com- 
pelled the ecclesiastical authorities to reckon with them. 
The desires and suggestions of the popular faith reached 
their culmination in their hands; through their agency 
they were clarified, sifted, arranged and finally imposed 
upon the theologians who had to adjust themselves to 
them as best they might. 

Thus, by a sort of unintentional collaboration of influ- 
ences of somewhat diverse origin, yet convergent in their 
effect, a religion very different from the Christianity 
that we caught a glimpse of in the beginning of the third 
century acquired shape and form in the fourth, and has 
become practically mistress of the Eoman world when 
the fifth century opens. 

When we think of Christianity in the Middle Ages 
these are the features that stand out: it is universalist 
in temper and given to warfare; exclusive, violently 
intolerant, to the Jews especially menacing; bris- 
tling with peremptory dogmas which set reason at 
defiance; marked by complex elaborate rites, mighty 
in their potency and mysterious; cluttered up with 
innumerable special "devotions" addressed to a good 
many Virgins fairly distinguishable from one another, 
and also to a good many specialized Saints; directed 
by a clergy in control of the faith and conscience of the 
laity who already form a strict hierarchy and tend more 
and more to take their orders from one sole center; 
kept up to the mark by a formidable army of monks and 
kept in check by a quibbling troop of acute theologians. 
If we first look upon the countless magnificent churches 
in which it has its abode, and the splendid ceremonies 


carried out therein surrounded by the symbols which 
inspire them, and then compare it with the religion of 
the Galilean prophet, humble and gentle, who claimed 
only to announce to his brethren the Glad Tidings of 
the coming of the Kingdom and to make them worthy 
of receiving it, compare it, I repeat, with the religion of 
this same Jesus, whose simple piety lifted his soul 
toward the God of his fathers by its childlike confidence, 
it is difficult to discover what these two have in common. 
It seems as if it is the philosophical and religious form 
of paganism, with all its contrarieties and incoherences, 
that has taken on fresh life under the name of Christ and 
triumphed over the religion "in spirit and in truth" 
which the Jewish-born Master had taught and lived. 
Nevertheless, unlike as they may be, the Christianity of 
a St. Thomas Aquinas, of a Peter the Hermit, of Jesus 
or of St. Peter are joined across the course of the ages 
together by a bond fragile but real. The needs of life, 
if it was to be preserved, have determined and made 
subject to inevitable evolution the movement whose start- 
ing point was the rise of Jesus. Thomism, as well as 
the faith of a Crusader, the theology of St. Augustine, 
the gnosis of Origen or the Gospel of St. Paul are but 
stages in this history. It is no less true that the triumph 
of the Church in the course of the fourth century was 
rendered possible only by the failure of the early faith, 
of that which we may call the faith of the Twelve. 


It was the misfortune of Christianity to be based from 
the first upon the great hope of the parousia. An admir- 
able and unattainable plan of life is easy to sketch out, 
given the conviction that all human existence may come 
to an end at any moment, and that during all eternity 
fruits will be reaped from the efforts of the remaining 
few days. Now this great hope was not realized and 
constant postponement delivered over Christians in gen- 
eral, like other men, to all the temptations of their animal 

186 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

nature and the downward drag of atavistic tendencies. 
While they did not in practice renounce the ideal of life 
without which their religion would have lost its meaning, 
they no longer sought its realization. With them, a belief 
in dogmatic assertions and a faith in the magic efficacy 
attached to certain rites took the place of the personal 
effort which the Gospel demanded. This deterioration 
did not begin in the fourth century, signs of it appeared 
some time before — but that triumph gave it fresh impetus, 
simply because the extremely numerous conversions of 
that time brought into the Church too hastily prepared 
believers who for that reason were less capable of keep- 
ing in check the basic force of life, so formidable to 
every religion. 

Henceforward the incubus of persecution is no more, 
and the Christian can lead a normal existence ; now his 
duties as a believer have become more entirely distinct 
from his needs as a man. His duties consist of certain 
obligations, of which even the number and especially 
their exactingness tend to become less hard and fast ; 1 his 
needs, on the other hand, multiply practically without 
any restriction, in line with the forms which custom has 
ordained for the ordinary life of the day. In other words, 
the mystic struggle which primitive Christianity under- 
took against life had ended in complete defeat. In fact, 
the Church accepted and acquiesced in it, and was con- 
tent to transform the ideal which contains the very 
essence of the primitive faith and indeed constituted her 
own raison d'etre into a theme for pious meditation. 

The entire Greco-Roman way of living is still there 
underneath an appearance of Christianity, and goes on 
side by side with the ideal just referred to which disowns 
it without inconveniencing it. The chief visible result at 
the beginning of the fifth century, therefore, from all 
points of view regarding the triumph of Christianity, is 
that it was triumph in appearance only. Far from hav- 

1 In this way the services performed in the church by degrees grow 
shorter, and it soon becomes the custom for the ordinary members 
of the congregation to take no part in them except on Sunday. 


ing transformed the Greco-Koman world, Christianity 
was really absorbed by it and applied to its own atavistic 
needs and customs in the whole domain of both mind and 
body. And because in so far as the Church has 
become a governing power and in that way lent herself 
to compromise and concession, and because the Church 
has also triumphed on these same lines, although she had 
previously identified herself with Christianity, it is the 
Church who is responsible for the consequences which 
inevitably followed. 

She has become one of the different aspects of the 
Roman State ; with its machinery and its gifts of admin- 
istration, its insistence upon order and regularity, she 
has also taken over its dread of too original and enthu- 
siastic individuals who agitate and confuse the simple- 
minded, and interrupt the lilt of the long-hallowed social 
rhythm. She only pays the old ideal the tribute of main- 
taining it as the chosen theme for its sermons; it no 
longer exercises any real or profound influence upon the 
policies of the "nominal and external Christianity," as 
Tolstoi calls it, with which little by little the Church 
learns to be satisfied, as far as the observance of the 
ordinary layman is concerned. 

The fifth century, in bringing about the downfall of the 
imperial power in the West, will at first seem to elevate 
that of the Church, since it will make her in some sort the 
Empire's successor in the political and social domain, as 
she has already become its substitute in the domain of 
religion and ethics. In the Roman world overthrown 
by the barbarians she will remain the sole organization 
in which there still dwells the old Roman principle of 
unity and centralization, and very soon she will think of 
making a really monarchic control for herself a reality. 
The security afforded by her protection will when that 
takes place become a very active means of propaganda, 
and her catholicity will gain accordingly. But the fresh 
temporal power that she will acquire will plunge her 
deeper into secularism, still further alienate her from her 
primary idealism, and tie her more closely to the realism 

188 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

of life here below. Yet more, neither her doctrine nor 
especially her morals will gain anything, and there will 
arise within the Church that idea of the necessity of 
"reform" which is destined to be the bugbear of her 
existence for many centuries. 

One special circumstance, however, singularly fur- 
thered this capitulation of the Church in practice to the 
world. Its importance from another point of view has 
been pointed out, and I return to it here. At all times 
men were to be found in the Church, or upstanding char- 
acters by her side, who did not admit that the Christian 
doctrine, under whatever aspect it be considered, was 
only an unrealizable ideal, who made an heroic effort to 
embody it in their own persons. They protested with 
splendid vigor against any disavowal of the divine rule 
of life; they cast a blight upon all capitulation. Ter- 
tullian and Commodian were men of this attitude; so 
also was the Montanist sect and, to a lesser degree, the 
Novatianists. In the fourth century their breed has not 
become extinct, and, logically, the excessive amount of the 
evil ought to increase their zeal. And, indeed, it actually 

A profound current of asceticism and austerity runs 
through the entire Christian life of the fourth century, 
and, as a matter of fact, all the religious life of the time. 
At first glance surprise may be felt that it should not 
have more visibly counteracted the movement which 
swayed the Church in the other direction we have 
described. The explanation will be found in the fact that 
organized monasticism has come into being, and that the 
convent doors stand wide open to Christians who repu- 
diate the disquieting concessions made to the spirit of the 
age and seek the means of living in genuine conformity 
to the real Christian code of morals. 

There are isolated ascetics who live in the world and 
become noted for their austerity. They receive a spec- 
tator-like admiration from the simple-minded, but they 
do not influence them very much, because the ecclesiasti- 
cal authorities keep an oversight upon the sometimes 


indiscreet zeal of these extremists in order to prevent 
them from disparaging the ordinary life of the world, and 
especially from preaching against marriage and the 
varieties of food usually cooked and served. The truth 
is that it is the works of the flesh and the use of meat and 
wine that most offend them. In the fourth century, a 
Spanish monk named Priscillianus undertakes to restore 
the observance of the primitive Christian discipline by 
the faithful. Most of the other bishops in his own 
country consider him a dangerous fanatic. They become 
suspicious and accuse him of Manicheism because that 
religion, Persian in its origin, taught strict asceticism, 
and they succeed in having him suppressed by the 
secular authorities. In Gaul, St. Martin, Bishop of Tours, 
the worship of whom was to become so widely extended 
some time after his death, spends his life in the isolation 
in which his episcopal brethren seclude him because of 
the severity of his personal asceticism and the "bad 
example" it sets. As soon as the number of hurt, uneasy 
and burdened souls increases, the Church brings the 
monastery into play as a "safety-valve." I do not mean 
to imply that she deliberately removes the faithful who 
are an inconvenience from the field of secular life, but 
simply that she indicates to those among them whose 
hearts are set upon the pursuit of the ideal that the means 
of attaining it is to step out of life in a very real sense 
without waiting for death. Oftenest she has but to leave 
them to themselves and even as early as the fourth cen- 
tury it already sometimes appears wise to thwart hastily 
undertaken vocations. 

In this way, by a kind of differentiation between 
finished and unfinished, the "believers" and the "per- 
fect," such as existed in Buddhism and Manicheism, two 
categories of Christians come into being. Both subscribe 
to the same doctrine, but it is understood that a curtailed 
application of its precepts in practice shall suffice for the 
salvation and will agree better with the capacities of the 
vast majority of men. The application of them in their 
entirety is reserved for a chosen few. Their hardy vir- 

190 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

tues are deemed to be an offset for the weaknesses shown 
by the multitude who, moreover, have at their disposal 
also effective means of "compensating" or making 
amends on their own account. Included in these means 
are the exercise of charity in the form of almsgiving and 
by testamentary dispositions, and "works of piety" of 
all kinds. It has been very truly said: "The true Chris- 
tian is the monk." Thanks to the monk also Christianity 
has been able to adapt itself to the life of the world and 
yet not quickly become anemic, nor allow itself to be 
submerged in the inevitable undertow of return to old 
pagan customs in religious matters, which persist long 
after the positive faith which justified them has ceased 
to exist. 


Such, then, is the account which the triumph gives of 
itself from the Christian standpoint. From the more gen- 
eral point of view of the history of religions it presents 
itself differently. 

First of all we must remember that primitive Chris- 
tianity was essentially an Oriental religion, an edifice 
for which Judaism provided the foundation and all the 
materials of the superstructure were obtained from the 
Hellenistic world, in which Greek and more accurately 
Eastern (Asiatic, Syrian, Mesopotamian, Iranian and 
Egyptian) influences were mingled from the time of 
Alexander's conquests. The Western world was pre- 
pared for Christian permeation by the propaganda work 
done on their own behalf — along the commercial routes 
or in the camps — by various Oriental religious Redeem- 
ing cults, such as that of Isis, of the Great Mother of 
Phrygia, of Mithra and others ; but it took no part itself 
in the formation of the new religion. It gulped it down 
whole, as it were, and after assimilation by it, Christian- 
ity became more massive and stricter. 

It was unable to grasp, and still more to express, in 
the undifferentiated Latin at its command, the subtle, 
fluid qualities of the Greek thought, the foster mother 


of early theology. The intricacies of the mystic impres- 
sions of the East which explain so many of the eddies in 
the main stream of the faith during the first few centuries 
altogether escaped it. Nourished altogether upon legal 
learning as it was, it instinctively tended to encase 
Christian metaphysics within strictly circumscribed, rigid 
formulas, and to codify religious ethics with great exact- 
ness. It was really this method of procedure, which gave 
Christianity the physiognomy that it retained in "Western 
Europe, with which we also are most familiar. But it 
presented another face to the world at the time of its 
triumph, which it will not actually begin to lose until the 
fifth century, under the influence of the Roman Church. 
In the fourth century we are still dealing with a purely 
Eastern religion. 9 

Our account of the state of religion in the East at the 
time of Jesus and of St. Paul showed the existence of a 
vast mass of religious material derived from cults that 
were either out of date, or abolished. While this 
material was still largely amorphous, it was in a fair 
way to be reintegrated around a certain number of 
crystallizing cores, under the molding influence of ten- 
dencies both definite and general. In other words, very 
urgent religious needs abounded throughout the whole 
of the East. Dominant among them was a desire for 
salvation, the certainty that man alone could not com- 
pass it, and that the help of a divine mediator was neces- 
sary, and also the conviction that by a worthy life and 
efficacious rites this life-giving aid would be his due. 
These needs sought means of self-expression by utilizing 
the ancient cults and inflating the old myths. 

To tell the truth, these form too narrow a framework 
to be an adequate setting for ideas that are constantly 
growing, and for which they were not designed. More- 

• I do not mean to say that the transformation of Christianity in a 
juridical and ritualistic direction had not already been begun in the 
churches in Italy, Africa and Gaul, but merely that, until the time 
of the triumph, these churches, that of Rome excepted, have little 
radiating power with which to penetrate the popular mind and that all 
doctrinal life still comes from the East. 

192 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

over, the reappearance of the same identical basic 
prejudices and theories in one cult after another thereby 
gave rise to the idea of a reintegration comprehensive 
enough to include or surpass them all. Men had only to 
look around them and to reflect a moment upon the facts 
to realize that the Mysteries of Isis, setting aside the 
sacred history, were of the same religious substance as 
those of Adonis or Attis. Now the solution of Apuleius, 
who sought and obtained initiation into all the great Mys- 
teries in succession, was not within the grasp of every- 
body. An instinctive syncretism had propounded the 
problem; during the second and third centuries, a self- 
conscious syncretism sought the solution of it. Each 
redeeming cult exalts its god as its solution to the status 
of a Supreme Divinity, of which the others are but aspects 
or functions, as it were ; he absorbs them all into his com- 
posite being. That is an imperfect and inadequate solu- 
tion, for these reasons : in the first place, too many sepa- 
rate cults as a matter of fact still remain extant ; then the 
syncretistic process leaves too much to individual fancy ; 
finally, when all is said it remains practically incompre- 
hensible and inaccessible to too large a proportion of 
human beings. This is the explanation, in the second half 
of the third century, of the necessity which is distinctly 
felt for a more inclusive and substantial coordination. 

In short, Christianity constitutes the first, in order of 
date, of the attempts made in this direction, and it was 
also the first to succeed, because its Jewish antecedents 
gave it the advantage of a fundamental monotheism and 
of an exclusiveness, intolerant, to be sure, but at that 
time also salutary. That exclusiveness was a guaran- 
tee of individualism which did not prohibit it from bor- 
rowing, but obliged it to assimilate these appropriations 
immediately and convert them into one coherent whole. 
Undoubtedly there arose, within the body of Christians, 
differences of opinion winch were sometimes very serious 
over fundamental questions. These differences might 
even lead to secessions and to the forming of sects. In 
any case there remained a body of general opinion, the 


conviction of the majority, which soon reduced dissenters 
to the position of heretics. In this process of denning its 
own thought more sharply, it must necessarily strengthen 
itself against their errors. 

It has long* been believed that about the time Chris- 
tianity became well rooted in the Empire, entertained the 
idea and even had acquired the rudimentary constitution 
of an orthodox doctrine, i.e., in the course of the third 
century, the world was halting between giving its alle- 
giance to Christ or to Mithra. This, I believe, is a gross 
exaggeration of the undeniable influence of Mithraism. 
Its methods of propaganda are much narrower and more 
restricted in their operation than those of Christianity. 
It never gathers any but small and scattered coteries. 
It deprives itself of the indomitable proselytizing spirit 
of women by admitting men only to its initiations. It 
possesses naught of what is needful to make it, or cause 
it to become, a popular religion in the wide sense of the 
term. The real enemies of Christianity are to be found 

These true antagonists are two religions, Oriental like 
itself. They originate in the same general trends of 
thought as itself, are nourished by the same religious 
sentiments and deal with the same religious matter that 
has been described. These are known as Neoplatonism 
and Manicheism. Originating in the same religious crisis 
as did Christianity, these two take shape and form at the 
same time, in the second half of the third century. 
Although at first sight they differ from Christianity and 
from each other in their forms, their starting point, their 
mythical setting and sacred stories, the selection and 
systematic arrangement of their main elements, still they 
present the same general characteristics. 

Thus Neoplatonism preserves the aspect of a phi- 
losophy which relies, if I may put it thus, for its spiritual 
foundation, upon Plato's thought, bringing it into line 
with the speculative ideas of the age, and on its 
supernatural side borrows its conceptions from Olympic 
polytheism. It is plain at once that philosophic specula- 

194 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

tion here is but an instrument of adaptation which serves 
to interpret this polytheism by symbols, subordinate it to 
Oriental monolatry (that is, to the worship of the Sun 
which is at the bottom of all the Oriental religions of 
Salvation) and to develop into a pantheism. 8 

Manicheism, on the contrary, rests upon Chaldean 
dualism as its base: the myth fundamental to it is the 
struggle between light and darkness, good and evil, spirit 
and matter. Its doctrine originates in the revelation of 
a prophet, Mani, and not in the reflections of a school of 
thinkers. Its elements are borrowed from a far wider 
field of thought than Neoplatonism or even Christianity, 
since they are derived from Mesopotamian, Persian, 
Buddhist influences, together with those of Gnosticism, 
which forms the major portion of its groundwork. 


These three religions are mutually antagonistic and 
clearly marked by a spirit and tendencies which are 
unlike ; but yet, how many points they have in common ! 
All three have broken with the old conception of the 
national religion; all are universalist ; all, obviously, 
account for the world and life in the same way, or at any 
rate, by the use of the same method ; all three maintain 
that they can rescue man from his state of misery and 
lead him to eternal salvation in God ; all three are at heart 
monotheistic, and all desire that man shall obtain life 
immortal and bliss by submitting to the rites of its cult 
and the rule of an austere morality. 

From the beginning Neoplatonism shows itself to be 
distinctly inferior : it has no founder, and never succeeds 
in discovering one ; it cannot refer its doctrine to a per- 
sonal manifestation of a God who authenticates and, so to 

8 The first two great masters of the school, Plotinus and Porphyry, 
still very much dread the allurement of superstition, and this is one 
of the reasons for Porphyry's hostility to Christianity ; their successors, 
beginning with the illustrious Jamblichus, give more and more atten- 
tion to religious questions and to pagan apologetics rather than to 
really philosophical research ; they pose as the defenders of Hellenism 
against the barbarous intolerance of the Christians. 


speak, lends concreteness to the revelation which it main- 
tains has been committed to it. For this reason it never 
loses the appearance of an artificial religion, a kind of 
abstract and very personal theory. It is very different 
with Manicheism, which has Mani for its objective justifi- 
cation, as Christianity has Jesus." 

Christian doctors have usually represented Manicheism 
to be a Christian heresy. Nothing appears to be more 
inaccurate, for it is but secondarily through contact with 
Christianity and for reasons of propaganda in a Chris- 
tian milieu, that the doctrine and history of Manicheism 
have acquired a Christian physiognomy. The capacity 
for syncretism displayed by Manicheism was not 
exhausted by its founder, but it is as an original religion 
that it first presents itself. If Mani considers himself a 
spiritual descendant of Jesus, whom he counts among 
the messengers of God who have preceded him, it is the 
Jesus of the Gnostics that he has in mind, for he owes 
nothing, or scarcely anything, to the Galilean Gospel. 

He preaches a religion of salvation by the path of 
renunciation, just as Christianity did in the beginning, 
but it is, metaphysically speaking, much simpler and 
clearer and more strictly logical than Christianity, and 
from the moral point of view more austere and search- 
ing. The calumnies which the orthodox Christians once 
more revamped and circulated with respect to it have no 
more foundation than when they were used earlier (for 
the same things were said) with regard to the Christian 
gatherings. After a brilliant, rapid success, Manicheism 
found its good fortune abruptly brought to an end by 
the fierce opposition of the Koman State, which regarded 
it as an anarchic movement more to be dreaded even 
than Christianity, a sort of extreme Montanism, bound 
to lead all its sectaries to abandon all their duties as 
citizens and men. Moreover, since it came from Persia, 
the hereditary enemy of the Empire, it could not agree 
with the Eomans. Such was the point of view taken by 

* Mani, Manes or Manicheus was born in Babylon in 215 or 216, and 
was put to death in Persia between 275 and 277 a.d. 

196 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

the emperor Diocletian when (about 300 a.d.) he issued a 
terrible edict pronouncing the harshest penalties for the 
Manicheans, evidently intended to accomplish their total 
extermination. The hatred of the Church, who regards 
this rival religion as a renewal of Gnosticism, far more 
redoubtable than its predecessor of the second century, 
leads it to concur heartily in the views of the State. 

And here we have the true cause of the final failure 
of Manicheism, in itself a very interesting and potent 
religious movement. Despite the relentless persecution 
to which it was subjected for many centuries, it betrayed 
surprising vitality. Its doctrine, to be sure, was no more 
rational than the theological metaphysics of Christianity, 
but it was a little simpler. If its inhumanly strict code 
of morals could scarcely hope to win the acceptance of 
the masses, the happy distinction drawn by it between the 
"elect" and the "hearers" allowed of more than one 
compromise. To be convinced that this is true we have 
but to recall the success of Albigensianism in the South 
of France in the Middle Ages, for that seems to have 
been essentially a Christian adaptation of Manicheism. 
As to its chances of success among the intellectuals, to 
realize that they were considerable it is enough to remem- 
ber that St. Augustine was won over by it and professed 
himself satisfied with it for many years. After the illus- 
trious doctor had seen nothing blameworthy in the Mani- 
chean gatherings while he belonged to the sect, we are 
sorry that he should have later betrayed such weakness 
as to collect, and publish over his name, the unworthy 
twaddle derogatory to them current in Christian circles. 5 

At the time when Manicheism began to be a cause of 
disturbance the Church already had the advantage over 
it that she was fairly organized; her unity and cohesion, 
which episcopal discipline energetically maintained, 
were easily able to cope with Manichean local groups 
which stayed isolated and felt forced to remain secret. 
In her fight against the asceticism of the Manicheans and 

B Particularly in his De moribus manichceorum 2, 19, 70, and in his 
De haeresibus 46. 


their anti-secularism, she had at her disposal the effective 
weapon which she employed to neutralize her own too 
ardent zealots : I mean monasticism. Thus Manicheism 
exerted upon the development of Christian monasticism 
an influence difficult, it is true, to estimate in these days, 
but at any rate considerable. Moreover, Manichean 
tendencies will long remain an object of dread to eccle- 
siastical authorities, and many a time will furnish an 
occasion or a pretext for the severest accusations. Pris- 
cillianus, the Spanish bishop, perished as the victim of 
one of these in 385. 

While there was little chance that the world would be 
converted to Neoplatonism, on the other hand, it might 
very easily have become Manichean in the fourth century. 
The explanation why it became definitely Christian must 
be sought particularly in the advance of the Church and 
the strides taken in the process of her organization and 
propaganda. She had already adapted her catechetics to 
the needs, i.e., to the customs of the average person, whilst 
her theology offered matter in abundance for the intel- 
lectuals to theorize upon. We must look for the explana- 
tion, too, in the support extended by the State, which 
persecuted the Manicheans, and in the help given by 
monasticism, for it opened a way for Christians naturally 
inclined to Manichean austerity to lead a rigorous life, 
whilst remaining in the Church to its edification. 

In other words, Christianity supplanted Neoplatonism 
and Manicheism during the decay of the old world 
because it could express their own tendencies better than 
they could themselves and also express the one not to 
the exclusion of the other, but together balancing and 
harmonizing them. The especial reason for its victory 
was its ability to regulate them to the actual point of 
correspondence with the needs of all the various classes of 
men who were seeking spiritual sustenance for them- 
selves. Three centuries of experience with difficulties of 
all sorts were the source of a ready tact which enabled 
it to avoid wild theses and intolerable forms of discipline ; 
it had acquired a sense of life. Real life filled its veins 

198 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

and bore it along with itself. Similarly, Christianity 
blended itself with life in the spiritual domain and did it 
with such extreme facility that the proof lies on the sur- 
face if one good look be taken at the heart of the facts. 
Let us note, moreover, that in supplanting Neoplaton- 
ism and Manicheism in the fourth century, indirectly 
Christianity partially absorbed them, taking over the dog- 
matics of the one and the ethics and discipline of the 
other; it did not really obliterate them. They will con- 
tinue to live on by its side. Neoplatonism will pass into 
the philosophic treatises which will long continue to give 
direction to the theories of Oriental metaphysics, and be 
productive all through the Middle Ages of profound infil- 
trations in Western theology. Manicheism will be pro- 
longed and perpetuated by various widespread sects 
which at various moments of recovery will put forth for- 
midable, tough-lived heresies which will cause the Cath- 
olic Church great uneasiness. Simply by the effort she 
will make to repress them, if no more, Manicheism will 
exercise a lasting influence upon her spirit and her 

part n 




Henceforth we shall consider the Western Church by 
itself. The Eastern Church has a history of her own, 
dependent upon the animating spirit special to her, the 
language she speaks, the circumstances in which her life 
evolves. Her influence upon the religious life of the 
Western world since the beginning of the Middle Ages 
has been very slight. 

From the earliest centuries of the Christian era the 
Eastern peoples were possessed of a genius for specula- 
tive religious thought, a taste and faculty for theological 
discussion, to which their versatile language with its 
delicate nuances was moreover well adapted. They 
were the originators and the fathers of a system of dog- 
matics which, after many heated discussions, was settled 
as to its chief outlines at the beginning of the fifth cen- 
tury. But in the end they became engulfed in their 
own subtlety. In condemning Origen particularly, and 
his writings and methods, at about the time men- 
tioned, they inadvertently shut themselves off from the 
main highway for their speculative thought, and the path 
that it had been following for more than a century. They 
dissipated their thought upon details and frittered it 
away in sorry disputes, so that it was not long in reduc- 
ing its tethers to the measure of their ordinary preoc- 
cupations. In the middle of the eighth century, John 
Damascenus, in whom the spirit of the great doctors of 
old seems to revive, constitutes an exception as remark- 
able in this arid age as it is unique. It might therefore 
be said that from the day the Byzantines lost habitual 

1 See the bibliography in G. Fieker and H. Hermelink's Das Mit- 
telalter (Vol. II of Kruger's Handbuch der Kirchengeschichte, 1912) ; 
Taylor, The Mediceval Mind, (1920) ; V. Eicken, Geschichte und System 
der mittelalterlichen Weltanschauung (1917). 


202 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

contact with the practical and well-balanced Latins, they 
did no more than mill round in a circle. It was certainly 
not through their own fault that this invigorating con- 
tact was lost. The disruption of the Western Empire 
and its dismemberment by the Teutonic hordes seemed 
to plunge the Latin world into barbarism once more, 
and the Western people forgot their Greek; the bishop 
of Rome himself knew it no better than the rest. The 
turmoil of the time affected both conquerors and con- 
quered, and regular communications and consecutive 
negotiations, nay, even intermittent and passing inter- 
course, between one end of Christendom and the other, 
became extremely difficult. The outcome was the Teuton- 
izing of the West, by which it acquired a new spirit which 
did not harmonize with that of the Eastern peoples, but 
was held in contempt by them. Italy indeed did for 
some time remain a common ground upon which the two 
worlds still met, but the Byzantines, by too harsh be- 
havior as masters, made an enemy of the bishop of Rome, 
who could not rest until they had been expelled. 

From the beginning of the eighth century the rela- 
tions between the two groups of Christians combined to 
set them at variance. On the one hand, the patriarchs 
of Constantinople found the pretensions of the Roman 
Pontiff intolerable. One of them, in the ninth century, 
by name Photius, broke off relations; in 1054 another, 
Michael Cerularius, exploiting both doctrinal differences 
— such as that upon the procession of the Holy Ghost, 2 
and differences in liturgical custom — such as the use 
of ordinary bread (the Eastern custom) for communion 
as against the use of unleavened bread (the Western 
custom), made the breach a final one. It is very clear 
that this rupture with the other half of the Church, 
which had actually founded and fashioned the faith, 
could not be accomplished without serious harm to the 
Western Church. It had never possessed true theological 
capacity, that fertility of mind and resourcefulness in 

* Did the Holy Ghost proceed from the Father alone, or from the 
Father and the Son? The Eastern Church maintained the first, the 
Western Church the second, assumption. 


the expression of dogma at once wide and profound, by 
means of which the Eastern Church had advanced from 
the Apostles ' Creed in the direction of the Nicene Creed 
and that of Constantinople. Such a cast of mind was 
responsible for troubles and disputes, no doubt, but it 
was also the agency of continual advance, I mean, of 
uninterrupted readjustments between the faith and the 
changing needs of men's religious consciousness. The 
Western Church, thoroughly imbued as it was with 
the juridical and practical Roman spirit, had taken 
little interest on her own account in any questions save 
those relating to morality, ethics, discipline and organ- 
ization. It may even be said that it was always in their 
bearing on these main perplexities that she was inter- 
ested in the doctrinal debates of the East which did reach 
her. In the future she will not act otherwise, and her 
thought ventures, except in occasional instances show- 
ing real initiative, will rarely carry her beyond the prob- 
lems to which she has hitherto given the preference. 
Her main theological effort — which is not to be denied 
— tends to defense or apologetics, and also to the 
demonstration of the truths acquired outside her pre- 
cincts, much more than to their evolutional development 
within them. She will make a dogma, as it were, of 
immobility. If it were actually impossible for her to 
act otherwise, she could, we may believe, have avoided 
the imprudence of compromising her future, by con- 
tinuing to submit to the influence of the progressing 
thought of the East which proclaimed its immovable 
adherence to tradition, but kept on modifying it con- 
tinually. Never could any effort of the Western Church 
succeed in renewing the broken bond. 

On the other hand, the constant friction engendered 
by the Crusades, the taking of Constantinople in 1204, 
and the exploiting of the Greek Empire by the Western 
barons after the fourth Crusade, the recapture of their 
lands and their cities by the Byzantines less than sixty 
years later, were all causes of an antipathy which was 
shared by both sides. 

204 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

Nevertheless the Greeks, after many evasions, had just 
decided (December 12, 1452) to proclaim, in the cathedral 
of St. Sophia, the treaty of union concluded at Florence 
thirteen years before, when Mahomet II appeared 
beneath the walls of Constantinople, and the city was 
taken on the 29th of May, 1453. By the decree of the 
Sultan (joyfully obeyed upon that occasion) the Floren- 
tine compromise was soon repudiated, and the Greek 
Church, divided into racial congregations slightly con- 
nected with one another, had henceforth enough to do 
to maintain her existence under the Turkish rule, with- 
out seeking to recover the lost tradition of her former 
theological activity. As a set-off, however, she gave 
in to the demands made upon her by the faith of the 
simple folk whose distresses she consoled and whose 
hopes she upheld, and grew more and more meticulously 
ritualistic. In the process, she paganized herself, gave 
herself to schooling as little as possible and, sunk to 
the state of religion characteristic of stationary peoples, 
she lived, like them, without budging an inch, and with- 
out doing any thinking. It is not until our own days 
that she, and the churches in the East born of her, have 
shown any serious signs of awakening. Throughout the 
Middle Ages, she scarcely influenced the faith of the 
West except to act as a source of disturbance if, as it 
seems reasonable to believe, one afleast of her heresies 
(that of the Paulicians, arising toward the middle of the 
seventh century out of an Armenian church, which main- 
tained the creed of the ancient heresiarch Marcion) little 
by little gained a footing in the Western countries, and 
became one of the sources of Albigensianism. 


It might be said that the ancient history of Western 
Christianity came to an end with St. Augustine. The 
age in which the great doctor lived witnessed the occur- 
rence of decisive events which razed the Roman world 
of the West to its very foundations and denoted its end. 


In his great work, too (the product of an uneasy mind 
and a spirit always progressive), the whole Christian 
thought of the first four centuries was epitomized and 
interpreted, cleared up and put in good order by the 
profound, though not always visible, aid of Platonic prin- 
ciples. His mind put all the ideas current in the Church 
before his day to the test, and his doctrine constitutes 
a landmark, erects a ledge, as it were, in the increasingly 
steep climb upwards of the faith. For this reason it can 
be said with equal exactness that all the medieval evolu- 
tion of Christian theology in the "West originated with 
St. Augustine. He forms the real connecting link be- 
tween ancient Christian thought and the specula- 
tions of the Schoolmen. Moreover, his role does not 
come to an end with the overthrow of the Schools. He 
is the founder of the mysticism of the Reformation as 
well as of the Middle Ages, and he is an inspiration to 
Protestantism as he was to the medieval Church. This 
does not mean that his influence, still so powerful in the 
seventeenth century, in which it engenders Jansenism, 
is the only one at work for more than twelve centuries, 
but it did continue to be the basis of all speculative 
thought, even the most syncretistic and the most foreign 
to his spirit. In the long and intricate symphony com- 
posed of the theological thought of the ages which have 
followed him, it constitutes, we might say, the deep 
thorough-bass which it is not always necessary to express, 
but which does provide a foundation that can con- 
fidently be relied upon for the most daring developments 
of the melody. 

It is not only the most conservative tradition and the 
most scrupulous orthodoxy that seek and find props, 
throughout the Middle Ages, for themselves in the writ- 
ings of St. Augustine. His doctrine — except for some 
extravagant theses upon predestination which theologians 
have disregarded by common consent — is looked up to 
as the supreme authority by the doctors of all schools. 
Before risking disagreement with him on the smallest 
point, they make use of all the tricks of interpretation 

206 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

known to them to effect a reconciliation. They accord 
as much respect to explanations which have been given 
by him merely by the way and as simple hypotheses, 
as to established truths. Equally with the masters in 
the art of reasoning, the mystics also revere him and 
regard him as the mainspring of their meditation. Even 
the heretics defer to him: in the ninth century, Gott- 
schalk, 3 and afterward, Luther, Calvin and the Jan- 
senists. Nay, more, the two worlds into which Western 
Christianity is divided today, the Catholic and the Prot- 
estant, still meet on common ground in him. Finally, 
his opinions upon certain essential points of the faith, 
on grace and on predestination, for instance, or upon the 
connection between reason and revelation/ from his 
times to our own, have supplied the grist for all the dis- 
cussions of the theologians. His dread statements also 
on the necessity of punishing the sacrilegious furnish 
the justification, in advance, of all the later medieval 
intolerance and the Inquisition. 

Nevertheless, St. Augustine did more than found the 
Western theology, state the main themes of its specula- 
tive thought, orient its mysticism and formulate rules for 
its public morality. Nobody worked harder than he to 
strengthen in the Church (I mean in the constituted body 
of ecclesiastical authorities) the principle of authority 
in matters of faith. No one contributed more than he 
toward the adoption of the opinion that a decision of 
the Church is a truth against which human reason is not 
qualified to rebel, and that the worth of Holy Scripture 

3 Gottschalk was a monk who maintained man's absolute predestina- 
tion, and suffered great persecution from his archbishop, the celebrated 
Hincmar of Rheims. 

* Let us note, in passing from the special point of view to which 
Christian thought has evolved, how Augustine conceived this connec- 
tion. God, he used to say, has given us our reason in order 
that we may know him, therefore, it can know him ; but of itself, 
it only conceives of him negatively ; i.e. it can only say that he 
is not this or that. A more direct ajod more positive knowledge 
of his nature proceeds entirely from revelation and there reason must 
limit itself to explaining revelation. Hence the celebrated dicta : "I 
believe in order that I may understand" (credo ut intelligam) and 
"faith precedes intelligence" (fides praecedit intellectual). This is a 
long way from the Greek rationalism, which was, however, Augustine's 


itself is due to the guarantee and the interpretation 
given it by the Church. 6 This impressive stand, which 
the Reformation rejected (though less entirely than it 
believed), was during the Middle Ages the corner stone 
of the Catholic edifice, so that one cannot conceive how it 
could have been erected without it. 

Moreover, this same stand met with substantial sup- 
port from the popular faith, to which Augustine well 
knew that he must make such concessions as contenting 
himself with its assent to the main points of his doctrine, 
shutting his eyes, when necessary, to its minor errors, 
and above all, its involuntary reversions to atavistic cus- 
toms. But he did not understand thoroughly well what 
an ardent desire for stability lay concealed beneath the 
apparent mobility of that faith. 

Simple folk are doubtless accessible to all forms of 
suggestion, whether they proceed from the past, or from 
circumstances or from environment. Their religious 
sensibility is more quickly stirred and reacts more pro- 
foundly when it is under the influence of group contagion, 
and then they usually show themselves so incapable of 
regulating it, that they very often put the theologians 
to embarrassment. Instinctively, too, they feel impelled 
to multiply the objects of their faith, and to inflate them. 
As a matter of fact, therefore, they constitute a dis- 
turbing element in the Church, more or less in evidence 
according to the period, but in ferment and always 
unstable. Nevertheless, nothing frightens them worse 
than the prospect of change in their belief, and nothing 
is more logical than such a fear. For a man to accord 
to any creed whatever his reasoned and well-considered 
assent, he must experience an ordinary need for reason 
and reflection ; he must also be accustomed to reasoning. 
Experience proves that this habit is not common, but pre- 
supposes an educated mind and a daily schedule which 
from time immemorial has been the previous privilege 
of a minority, even smaller in the fifth century than it 

6 He used often to repeat that he would not believe the Gospel if 
the Church had not guaranteed its truth. 

208 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

is today. The majority of men may indeed find that they 
possess within themselves a religious life in principle, 
but it ferments in their consciousness as a vague yearn- 
ing; they prove incapable of organizing it, just as they 
remain impotent to regulate their minds. Of themselves 
they do not succeed in unifying either their intellectual or 
their moral ego. The necessary light and direction come 
to them from without, usually in the form of statements 
of a metaphysical kind which cannot be verified. It 
matters little that they are neither very coherent in them- 
selves nor easy of justification, provided they appear to 
be clear and decisive. But, if they are to be classified 
with the Truth, they must not vary by a hair and issue 
from an authority worthy of confidence — or at any rate, 
deemed so — in which they shall find unwavering sup- 
port. For this reason simple-minded faithful souls in 
Augustine's day, and he along with them, willingly 
believed that the Church represented a divine institution, 
established to teach unerringly and to preserve intact 
the eternal truths revealed by Christ and by the Holy 
Spirit. Do not let us forget, besides, that these funda- 
mental assertions, these essential truths of the faith, 
regarded as given and not debatable, are never more 
than a framework. The reality of the religious thought 
and life enclosed in that setting varies infinitely from 
age to age and milieu to milieu, for the passage of time 
modifies the reason of educated men as it does the 
impressionableness of the ignorant. 


Now at the beginning of the fifth century, the ignorant 
and the semi-Christians thronged into the Church in 
numbers. As Mgr. Duchesne has so well expressed it, 
''The mass was Christian to the extent that the mass 
could be, on the surface and according to label; the 
waters of baptism had touched it, but the spirit of the 
Gospel had not pierced it." And it could not be other- 
wise. The clergy had believed it necessary to hasten 


the conversion of the masses of people whom the imperial 
government delivered over to their propaganda and, 
sacrificing quality to quantity, they had joyfully 
inscribed, as converts to the faith, the names of men 
who knew little of it save some few formulas. They 
could not understand these at all well and, in making 
their acquaintance, they had forgotten none of their 
pagan customs. It would have needed much time and 
work to turn these neophytes into real Christians, and 
to shelter the doctrine, as well as the ethics, of the Chris- 
tianity set up in the first three centuries from their 
unintentional raids. But at that time the Roman world 
was breaking up; everywhere premonitory signs of an 
approaching cataclysm were apparent and the Church 
herself was seriously disturbed by heretics and partisans. 
Accordingly it did not seem to be a favorable hour for 
undertaking such a long drawn out work, and the bishops 
of that period had to content themselves with redressing, 
as best they could, and in experimental fashion, the 
shocking malformations of the Christian faith which 
they perceived around them. Very soon the invasions 
of the barbaric hordes will render their efforts futile. 

Had the choice been offered the Church of leaving the 
invaders to their paganism or trying to win them for 
Christ, her duty and her material interests alike would 
have dictated her decision, and would have inclined her 
to be content with a conversion which she could not hope 
would be very profound. She was not even free how- 
ever to decide the matter for herself. To begin with, 
a good many of the barbarians were already nominal 
Christians when they entered the Empire. Of such were 
the Goths, converted in the fourth century by Wulfila, 
although indeed to Arianism. Most of the others, in 
their ardent desire to be the equals of the Romani, 
accepted the faith of the Emperor without delay. I 
should say that they believed they accepted it, for what 
could the clergy do with such a number in such a short 
time? Instruct them? It was out of the question; they 
had to be content with teaching them no more than 

210 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

the symbol of baptism and then baptizing them en masse, 
postponing until a later date the task of eradicating their 
superstitions, which they preserved intact. To tell the 
truth, this " later date" never arrived, and the Church 
adapted to herself, as well as she could, them and their 
customs and beliefs. On their side, they were content to 
dress their paganism in a Christian cloak. 

The invincible opposition of the orthodox clergy to the 
Arianism of the conquerors preserved the mass of Chris- 
tian believers over whom they possessed supreme influ- 
ence, from heretical contamination by it. Even yet, 
Catholic historians attach great importance to the bap- 
tism of Clovis at the hands of St. Remi, because it made 
the petty kingdom of the Salic Franks a bulwark of the 
authentic Nicene faith. The Merovingian conquests 
clearly favored the elimination or the absorption of the 
independent thinking Burgundians, Visigoths and Ostro- 
goths and strengthened the authority of the Church, but 
these two results were not of equal importance. By this 
I mean that the Christian faith of the newcomers and 
of the "Romans" of the ordinary sort was not then so 
delicately differentiated that it could be really altered 
by a troublesome variation of opinion concerning the 
nature of the Son and his relation to the Father. It 
had by no means reached such a pitch, and according to 
appearances, had Arianism prevailed, there would have 
been no great change in the after history of the Church. 
On the other hand, it was by no means an indifferent 
matter to her for the king to be of the orthodox faith, 
as, in the Merovingian kingdom, ecclesiastically a model 
for the others, where the Church became a kind of 
"national" institution of which the king was the tem- 
poral chief. In return, it came to stand for the only 
principle then existing of social and even political unity, 
the only organ of union and moral discipline which was 
not brute force. 

The most abandoned rascals now dreaded her super- 
natural power, by means of which she could open or 
close the gates of paradise to them. The surest works 


of merit, and above all the most efficacious form of 
penitence, in the ordinary opinion of the day, was a 
handsome donation to a church, or, if possible, to several, 
so as to make friends among the saints invoked therein. 
The example set by the princes themselves was so faith- 
fully followed, during the sixth and seventh centuries, 
and the funded wealth of the clergy grew so fast and so 
large, that sovereigns were disturbed by it. At the same 
time Church lands by degrees slipped out from public 
obligations, taxes and military service. 

This privileged position in which the Church entrenches 
herself is not secured without some disadvantages to 
her; there is another side to the picture. The barbarian 
kings come to look upon bishoprics as mere royal offices 
of which they can dispose as they please without regard 
to canon law, 6 and their selection is not always an 
enlightened one. They may happen to reward with a 
miter services which are in no sense ecclesiastical. 

On the other hand, in the degree that the wealth of the 
Church increases, and her order and perpetuity give her 
a better standing, she puts stronger temptations before 
the very persons responsible for her improved condi- 
tion. Needy princes, such as Chilperic and Charles 
Martel, cannot resist them. But to tell the truth, the 
Church does not lose in the end by these occasional 
spoliations; from the penitence afterward of the guilty 
she always exacts handsome compensation. Her stay- 
ing power enables her to overcome fleeting trials; bad 
rulers pass away, and she remains to reap the benefits 
conferred upon her by good ones. 

It may indeed happen that the king, with the intention 
of serving her interest, will compromise and vex her a 
great deal by interfering in her affairs with the naive 
presumption of an ignorant person who is conscious of 
his own power. Did not one of the grandsons of Clovis, 
the detestable Chilperic, have the mad fancy to believe 
himself a theologian and the open audacity to pretend 

8 An edict of Clothair II in 614 calmly states this pretension as a 

212 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

that he could elucidate in a fashion of his own the mys- 
tery of the Trinity? 

Nevertheless, given the general conditions imposed 
upon the life of Christianity by the stifling of all culture 
consequent upon the fall of the Roman Empire the gen- 
uine intellectual apprehension of the Christian religion 
falls rapidly away into obscurity. The formulas which 
Churchmen go on repeating without really understand- 
ing them themselves, only serve as a mask for an 
unbridled immorality and a faith really uncouth and 
incoherent, a gross syncretism in which Teutonic super- 
stitions, mingled with those native to the soil, really 
count for more than the Christian dogmas. 

Then too, in alarming fashion, the cult of saints and 
relics and images, and a credulous trust in rites and signs, 
attain increasing vogue and in this way polytheism and 
magic manage to reestablish themselves in the Church. 
These new barbarian converts to the faith brought with 
them an anthropomorphic idea of the Deity which 
coincided with and strengthened the primitive thought of 
God which the peasants of the Roman Empire had never 
entirely abandoned. The God of the Christian creed 
must have seemed to them very difficult of access, and 
the intercession of the saints, who were to them the 
natural successors of their old specialized and familiar 
gods, fascinated them far more. They therefore kept 
developing the cult of the saints, not a very exalted one 
always, it is quite certain, but a practical one and, if I 
may express it thus, good for everyday use. The saints 
are implored to perform useful miracles, to effect 
imperative cures of the sick, and to furnish in difficulties 
of all kinds a solution which has been sought in vain 
by human means. The people maintain a constant inter- 
course with them; they write to them and await their 
reply; they dread them, yet they sign and seal deeds, 
and even make bargains with them; they reward them 
when they are pleased with them, and in the contrary 
case, they threaten and even punish them, by withhold- 
ing homage to them or, at times, by inflicting upon their 


images serious bodily injuries. They are taken to war 
in the guise of relics and they are borne in long proces- 
sions as a safeguard from epidemics and other dis- 
asters; even in death their protection is sought, by the 
selection of a burial site as near as possible to their 
tombs. The ancient Roman law, already inscribed on 
one of the Twelve Tables, hominem mortuum in urbe ne 
sepelito neve urito ("a dead body shall neither be buried 
nor burned in the city"), is completely disregarded, in 
spite of clerical opposition; to await the hour of resur- 
rection ad sanctos, and, as it were, in the shadow of the 
blessed, is the dearest wish of every man. 

To obtain favoring relics these men are prepared to 
run all risks ; if need be, they will snatch them by force, 
or steal them. To undertake a voyage is not a prudent 
thing for a venerable personage to do if he is in bad 
health; he can never be sure how far the hope of a 
neighborhood giving sepulcher to a distinguished corpse 
may impel zealous persons to go, among whom he may 
have to linger on the road. It is no longer possible 
to conceive a church that does not contain the sepulchrum 
of a saint, i.e. a tomb with some part of his body, or at 
any rate an object which has touched it and therefore 
into which his supernatural power (vis) has passed. The 
sanctuary which has the good fortune to possess the 
sepulchrum of a saint reputed influential and active has 
its fortune made; pilgrims and offerings pour into 
it. Thus St. Martin enriched his basilica at Tours with 
the gifts which fear or gratitude heaped upon his 

It must be understood that while devotion of that kind 
has little in common with Christian dogma, on the other 
hand it is closely and intimately bound up with pagan 
superstitions. Note should be taken that as a rule the 
Frankish kings, especially the Merovingians, do not seek 
to impose their beliefs on their subjects ; in this connec- 
tion they very rarely intervene. Nevertheless they are 
opposed on principle to idols, the destruction of which 
is imperatively ordered by an edict of Childebert I. 

214 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

Failing this action by the people, they are to be destroyed 
by the clergy in the fields where they are still to be 
found in large numbers. But the disappearance of 
the images from the landscape was not enough to put 
an end to the profound superstition still vigorously 
active as their mere presence had testified. Beneath the 
Christian practices of those days, or side by side with 
them, it is by no means difficult to perceive a number 
of atavistic customs which contradict them that were 
also common practice. 

The worship of trees and springs seems to have been 
particularly current. Diviners and wizards do a large 
business. The ancient festivals are kept as holidays 
and celebrated in the country parts, and the Church 
can only neutralize their effect by turning them to 
account for her own profit. There is nothing stranger, 
from this point of view, than the instructions given by 
Gregory the Great to the monk Augustine, his missionary 
to England. He is to transform the temples into 
churches, after they have been ceremonially cleansed; 
and to replace the devil-sacrifices by processions in honor 
of some saint, with an offering of oxen to the glory of 
God, and the distribution of the flesh among the con- 
gregation. Moreover, the king of East Anglia, Eedwald, 
after his baptism and Christian confession, is careful to 
keep opposite the altar in his church at which mass is 
celebrated, another altar where the sacrifices demanded 
by the ancient gods are carried out. 

It is instructive, too, to note how very small a place 
questions of dogma seem to hold in the matters which 
engage the attention of the Merovingian Councils; it 
is an exception and a rare exception for them to dwell 
upon them; all their care seems to be applied to regulat- 
ing questions of ecclesiastical discipline. It would be a 
mistake, moreover, to believe that men, so exclusively 
occupied with liturgical rites and gestures, would prove 
very close observers of what are still called, in Church 
language, their religious duties. They do not even fre- 
quent the "Holy Table" as often as they ought to do, and 


the Church is greatly exercised over this neglect. A 
Council of Agda, held in 506, even declares that those 
who do not communicate at Christmas, Easter, and Whit- 
suntide, shall not be considered Christians. Such a canon 
law reveals a good deal ! 

In those days, too, the large majority of the clergy are 
miserably ignorant and share in the profligacy of the 
age. The high standing of Gregory of Tours, a ready but 
very inexperienced writer, an upright man, yet possessed 
of a moral sense which demands little of others, serves 
as a standard by which to measure the depths to which 
his colleagues had fallen. Scarcely anywhere save in the 
heart of a few monasteries, the most celebrated of which 
is Mount Cassin, 7 in the sixth and seventh centuries, does 
the light of intellectual culture and of theology still even 
flicker. It is by his industry and his virtue, more than 
by his learning, that Gregory the Great, who died in 604, 
is nevertheless able to make a record as a Father of the 
Church. All creative force seems to be in a state of 
exhaustion after Boetius (who died about 525), and his 
friend Cassiodorus, who, at any rate, were scholars; 
Isidorus of Seville, toward the end of the century, pos- 
sesses the especial merit of having read a great deal, and 
compiled as much as possible of it all. 

This sorry age, therefore, turned out a religion and a 
Church that was to its own mind and conformed with 
its needs. And it succeeded all the more easily in doing 
this because at the beginning of the Middle Ages there 
was as yet no official and complete exposition of the 
faith and of Christian institutions. It was continually 
urged that both were bound by the closest ties to the 

7 The monastery of Mt. Cassin, founded in Campania in the sixth 
century by St. Benedict of Norcia, was governed by the rule known as 
Benedictine; it very rapidly spread throughout Western Christendom. 
The monks who accepted this rule had to take vows of steadfastness, 
poverty and chastity ; moreover, they had to promise obedience. Those 
are necessary conditions for the constitution of a monastic order, 
but the monks who followed the Benedictine rule, being grouped in 
"houses" where they led a communal life, did not at first form an 
"order." The "houses" were independent and for this reason the prac- 
tice of their rule very quickly altered. It was by the advice of Cas- 
siodorus that this rule gave a place to study, side by side with manual 
labor and devotional exercises, in the life of the monks. 

216 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

Apostolic tradition and that of the Fathers, but in prac- 
tice it was in St. Augustine's writings that these were 
sought, and in collections of extracts, or catenae, compiled 
from the whole range of Patristic literature. The deci- 
sions of Councils and Synods had not yet been either 
harmonized or codified. It is an easy surmise that doc- 
trine so little set in fixed phrases and so widely dis- 
seminated would be very difficult to preserve successfully 
from additions and alterations. A good catechism which 
the whole Church could accept would have been her best 
protection in this case. But who would have been able 
to edit it, and secure for it oecumenical approval, when 
there was still so much divergence between the the- 
ological authorities of the past and the present-day 
opinion? With a clergy sunk in ignorance, who pos- 
sessed even the elementary qualifications'? In the sixth 
century Cassiodorus, a high official at the court of King 
Theodoric, had vainly sought to establish in Eome 
schools in which some of the clergy would have been 
trained, and the state of affairs elsewhere can be imag- 
ined. Until the time of Charlemagne, anyone at all who 
can get a bishop to accept him for that office may be a 
priest ; anyone at all who is elected by a church or chosen 
by the king can be a bishop ; but there is no regular place 
where a man may prepare for his vocation. The least 
ignorant of the clergy either come from the cloisters, or 
have been brought up in the house of some old priest. 
Such men are usually incompetent to give religious 
instruction to their flocks. So they content themselves 
with performing the customary rites, and that is how 
the liturgy, plus certain puzzling formulas, and many 
parasites in the way of superstitions which the clergy 
can neither recognize nor eradicate, becomes the whole 
of religion. By a strange turn of fortune, Christianity 
now tends to become actually nothing more than a col- 
lection of legends and of sacra (acting ex opere operate-, 
like the operations of magic), and consequently to 
resemble that ancient Olympic paganism whose poverty 
of dogma and morals, lack of teaching capacity and 


childish ceremoniousness it had formerly inveighed 
against so bitterly. This was the foundation, and not 
the completed Patristic Christian tradition, upon which 
the popular religion, the religion practiced in the Mid- 
dle Ages, was reared. In the sixteenth century the 
Reformation will try to uproot it, and will only partially 


This deep humiliation of the Church and general cor- 
ruption of the faith, however, in so far as they were the 
result of the relapse into barbarism which held sway, 
after the death of Theodosius, in the Western world, 
had not gone beyond hope of recovery. Purgation and 
restoration were the natural outcome of a transforma- 
tion in civil life which became observable at the end of the 
eighth century. Its source must undoubtedly be looked 
for in the painstaking labors of the relatively learned 
monks and clerics, because these superior attainments 
drew them nearer to the kings; but it will be found 
above all in the personal goodwill of some choice sov- 
ereigns, like Charlemagne in the Frankish Empire, and 
Alfred the Great in England, who looked upon their 
kingdom as a theocracy and upon their office as priestly 
in character. The great effort made by Charlemagne 
to maintain order and justice in his realms somewhat 
curbed the baser instincts of their peoples. The care 
he took to choose only pious and zealous bishops conferred 
moral authority upon these heads of the Church. His 
diligence in establishing clergy training schools beside 
the cathedral churches and at the larger monasteries 
lessened the number of ignorant priests. In giving the 
bishops a share in the government by delegating to them, 
conjointly with, as the counts-palatine, the oversight of 
the provinces, for instance, he armed them with sub- 
stantial authority and credit which they could use for 
the good of religion. At the end of the ninth century 
Alfred the Great followed the same methods, also limit- 
ing his ambitions, since he seems to have given his con- 

218 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

sent that the religious instruction of the body of his 
subjects might proceed as far as the familiar knowledge 
of the Paternoster and the Credo. In the tenth century 
the three Othos in Germany followed much the same 
policy in regard to these same matters. 

Let us note well that this taste for letters and ardor 
for study, which contributed so much to establish the 
renown of Charlemagne and of Alfred, did not proceed 
from mere intellectual curiosity. As in the older case 
of Cassiodorus, both were anxious above all to rescue 
the clergy from their state of ignorance and equip them 
to instruct the people. That was why Charlemagne 
ordered the preachers to abandon the use of Latin in 
their sermons, and to express themselves in the vulgar 
tongue that they might be understood of all. In truth 
he was obliged to be satisfied with very little, as little as 
to show pleasure when a cleric knew how to read the 
Gospels and the Epistles, and could recite the liturgical 
prayers correctly. 

Knowledge of this kind could not lead very far 
on the road to improvement and, as a matter of fact, that 
which is sometimes called "the Carlovingian revival" 
is of much more interest in its intentions than in its 
results. The number of monasteries in which studies 
were held in honor did increase, however, and churchmen 
at least had the impression that a far-reaching reform 
in morals and beliefs was involved in any return to 
Patristic tradition. An example was given and a pattern 
set for this reform in the time of Louis le Debonnaire 
and upon the initiative of Benedict of Aniane, in many 
of the monasteries which followed the rule of St. Benedict 
of Norcia. Finally, in proof that there was some slight 
revival of theological activity at that time, various 
heresies appeared, and doctors arose to refute them. 
Better still, the age of Charles the Bald produced a true 
theologian, a profound thinker and, therefore, one 
inclined to reach heretical conclusions. This was Scotus 
Erigena, a thinker with a far wider horizon than his 
contemporaries, not only on account of his own peculiar 


genius but because he had visited the East and knew 
Greek. 8 

He is a man worthy of close attention, who will exercise 
considerable influence, not in his own time, which did 
not understand him, but later, especially in the thirteenth 
century. He espoused a pantheistic explanation of the 
world, in which nature is conceived as coeternal with 
God, who is all in all, so much so that in all places God's 
is the sole presence. 8 Although Erigena tries to cover 
up his venturesome theses in orthodox formulas and 
quotations from Scripture, none the less the Christian 
mysteries vanish before explanations rational in char- 
acter of his devising ; he fills in and obliterates the abyss 
which Christianity acknowledges between nature and 

It is not however this final conclusion of Scotus 
Erigena 's thought, interesting as it is, which should 
detain us here for a moment; on the contrary, it is its 
principle and its starting-point. He derives them both 
(a) from that Neoplatonic philosophy which we have al- 
ready seen constituted in the fourth century a rival relig- 
ion to Christianity, and (b) from Manicheism. Maniche- 
ism is soon due to reappear. Long obliged to hide under 
cover to maintain its existence, the hour of its resurrec- 
tion will strike in the Middle Ages. Neoplatonism 
found it more difficult to maintain a foothold in the popu- 
lar faith, but it survived in the speculative thought of a 
few sages. It appears in a Christianized version, in the 
writings of the Confessor Maximus, and in those of the 
pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, and these, with the 
Neoplatonic treatises of St. Augustine, are exactly the 
original sources used by Erigena. 

Thus nothing of the protective envelope which at the 
time of the triumph of Constantinian Christianity 
enfolded the living religious substance is lost or missing. 
Neoplatonism is going to remain as a powerful leaven 

8 St-Rene Taillandier, Scot Erigene et la philosophic scholastique 
(Strasbourg, 1843). 

9 De divisione naturae, Vol. VIII : Erit erwm, Deus omnia in omnibus, 
quando nihil erit, nisi solus. 

220 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

in Christian theology. Besides its contribution to the 
formation of dogma at the time when the main doctrinal 
strata are laid down, it will on various occasions, and 
not in, Erigena's case only, evoke a veritable impulse 
of renewal or revision. In order to give this notice in 
advance that the Neoplatonic influence is to be one of 
the profounder elements of the theological life of the 
Middle Ages, it was necessary to mark, chronologically, 
the position of the thinker who will often serve as an 
intermediary and vehicle for it, side by side with Diony- 
sius the Areopagite. 

Let us not make the mistake, however, of failing to 
recognize that the slight renewal of theological activity 
or at least of theological interest which is the result of 
the Carlovingian revival in no way denotes an appre- 
ciable transformation of the religious spirit of the 
masses, for they do not change their ideas so quickly. 
Scotus Erigena indeed took good care to emphasize the 
difference between his theology, which was, he said, vera 
theologia as well as vera philosopJiia, and the popular 
belief. As a matter of fact, the doctors who join with 
Gottschalk, Eabanus Maurus and Hincmar, in the dispute 
over predestination or the effects of the consecration 
of the Eucharist, take no interest in the ordinary 
believers, nor do these ordinary believers take any inter- 
est in them. And, although this aristocratic isolation of 
Christian thinkers with regard to the mass of Christians 
is nothing new it is none the less very disturbing. Not 
only will it favor the theological virtuosity which plays 
with empty words and juggles with abstract ideas, 
remote from all religious experience and concrete reality, 
that is so much time lost, but it will also turn the " intel- 
lectuals' ' of the Church aside from their real duty, 
which is to instruct and enlighten the ignorant, to safe- 
guard them from themselves and the suggestions of their 
milieu, and to make them better people. 

This does not imply that the faith of the body of believ- 
ers remains fixed, but that it extends its acquisitions 
in the direction which the need of the hour, or the instinct 


most spontaneous, or the logic nearest home seems to 
impose upon them. Is an example necessary 1 ? Whilst 
Paschius Eadbertus is busy clearly propounding the doc- 
trine of transubstantiation in the eucharistic offering, 10 
and Rabanus Maurus and Ratramnus are raising objec- 
tions to it, the great body of ordinary believers are 
becoming more and more firmly attached to the belief that 
the consecration of the elements renews the sacrifice of 
the Cross. This is at first sight a very strange sim- 
ilitude, hard to imagine arising as a product of popular 
reasoning , but quite easily explainable through the com- 
bination of an atavistic custom with the impression 
which repetition invariably produces. Ancestral prac- 
tices very ancient in date had bequeathed to these 
people the custom of considering sacrifice the essential 
part of worship, and it is plain to them that in their 
present religion the eucharistic ceremony is the central 
point of divine worship. Moreover, tales are told them 
of miracles which have testified to the supernatural char- 
acter of the consecrated elements. They are therefore 
drawn altogether spontaneously to the conviction that 
the Lamb himself is the occupant of the altar during the 
Mass, and that the consumption of the bread and wine 
constitutes a genuine sacrifice : Christ is sacrificed anew 
at every Mass, as he was upon the Mount of Calvary. 
While the theories about transubstantiation will fall into 
perfect agreement with that conclusion, that conclusion 
did not spring from those theories, nor was it arrived at 
in order to coincide with them. 


The political results accomplished by Charlemagne 
were not lasting. In less than fifty years his Empire was 
entirely broken up. The jurisdiction of royal authority 
became so impaired as to be no more than an illusion, 

10 The first use known of the word transubstantiation is that of Hil- 
debert, Archbishop of Tours, who died in 1134 ; its first authorized use 
in the doctrinal vocabulary dates from the fourth Lateran Council 
in 1215. 

222 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

for people whom the Emperor thought he had brought 
under the discipline of law fell back into absolute 
anarchy. The close of the ninth century and the whole of 
the tenth, the period in which what is known as the feudal 
system was set up, possibly exceeded, in violence and dis- 
order, the dread days of the barbarian invasions. This 
anarchy had a direct reaction on religion, on Church- 
manship, and on the Church. To say nothing of the 
innumerable attacks made by the barons upon churches 
and monasteries, which reduced the clergy frequently to 
penury, and always to insecurity, and rendered them 
unable to fulfil the task of religious instructors, it must 
be noted that the schools established by Charlemagne 
have disbanded or else merely vegetate in a few monas- 
teries, still rich and powerful, but isolated, like that at 
St. Gall, for instance. In most cases it is the feudal 
lords, do not forget, who hold in their grasp the nomina- 
tion of ecclesiastical dignitaries, and everywhere turn 
it into a source of revenue. That gives some idea of 
the prelates, men less fitted to feed their flock than to 
fleece it, and more versed in the articles of war than in 
the writings of the Fathers. With a few exceptions, such 
as are to be found at all times, the clergy of those days 
shared the vices of the laity ; they were coarse, ignorant 
and churlish. 11 Nevertheless the poor sought the con- 
solation and hope they so sorely needed in religion ; their 
piety was lacking in delicacy and discernment, but it 

11 This ignorance continued long, and only disappeared, little by 
little, in the course of the fourteenth century, when the universities 
began to assert and extend their influence. It was only in the latter 
half of the twelfth century that the great episcopal schools of Paris 
and London really began to function. Until that time the best among 
the clergy had been trained in monastic centers, such as the Abbaye du 
Bee, in Normandy, St. Victor and St. Genevieve in Paris, St. Denis, St. 
Alban, of Fulda and Utrecht in the Holy Roman Empire, those of Cam- 
bridge and Oxford in England, of the Lateran in Rome. It goes with- 
out saying that the pupils in these schools form but an, infinitesimal 
minority among Churchmen. Moreover, they find themselves sadly 
hampered by reason of the prevailing ignorance, and do not rightly 
know how to set to work upon it. From the beginning of the twelfth 
century, we find in circulation the "Bibles of the poor," which are col- 
lections of sacred pictures; but these are rare and costly and not suf- 
ficiently numerous until after the invention of wood-engraving; to be 
really useful they require continual exposition, and in any case they 
move and edify, rather than instruct. 


was profound. Unfortunately, their credulity also was 
unbounded, and they became attached by preference to 
the most indifferent rites and practices because those 
best agree with ignorance and thoughtlessness. 

I must repeat once more that Christian dogmas had 
been established and formulated by keen, subtle, Eastern 
minds. The metaphysics of the ancient Greek masters, 
as well as the verbal ingenuity of Greek sophists, had 
been large contributors at their birth. The ideas they 
contained and the phrases used to express them proved 
equally incapable of penetrating tenth-century minds. 
If the veritable core of Christianity dwelt within these 
dogmas, then the contemporaries of Otho the Great or 
of Hugh Capet had to content themselves with a sem- 
blance of Christianity, composed entirely of a liturgy 
and a few statements meaningless to them. They were 
obliged to accept these as truths which could not be veri- 
fied. But as such enigmas do not form a religion, by 
which I mean, as religious sentiment, ever so slightly 
alive, cannot be content with anything so meager, they 
created a substitute for the Christianity that escaped 
them, which did accord with their own minds and hearts. 
Moreover, it proved naturally a sequel to the form it 
received when the peasantry and, shortly afterwards, the 
barbarians entered the Church. God and Christ still 
reigned within it, no doubt, but they did not govern; 
its substance is found in such particulars as these: (a) 
the Holy Virgin, whose virtues the monks multiply, and 
whose worship they develop; saints, whom, in a pinch 
the people themselves create, 12 specialize according to 
their needs, and treat their relics and images like real/ 
idols ; external and showy observances which work upon 
the feelings and serve as a lure to religious sentiment; 

1 2 The people spontaneously raise to the dignity of saint, and pay 
that honor to anyone who appears to them worthy. Naturally, vexatious 
errors are by no means rare. The ecclesiastical authorities become dis- 
turbed about the matter, and in the eighth and ninth centuries we find 
many capitularies which aim at reserving for the diocesan bishop the 
right to make canonizations. It was only at the end of the tenth cen- 
tury, after the canonization of Ulrich of Augsburg in 993, that the Pope 
laid claim to the exclusive right to deal with such matters. 

224 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

legends, originating none knew where, and embellished 
as they pass from mouth to mouth, which recall, when 
given a Christian label and amazing miracles for a set- 
ting, familiar conceptions and attachments. 

"Philosophy" or, to express it more modestly, thought, 
found no place in this scheme. To tell the truth, or- 
thodox dogma, which the thoroughgoing pantheism of 
Scotus Erigena had for a moment threatened, had 
then nothing more to fear: it soared far above the 
practical faith, and very few were acquainted with 
it or gave it a thought. Only — and it is quite under- 
standable — the historian of sacramental theology will 
be able to glean material of value to him from the prac- 
tices of those days. Then it was, for instance, that the 
anointing with oil of those in danger of death became 
a sacrament, and the custom of giving absolution to the 
sinner before his fulfilment of the penance imposed, 
was established. This period also saw begun an ex- 
traordinary system of penances that became, and 
remained, the method preferred by the ecclesiastical 
authorities for use in the complete subordination of the 
faithful. In the minds of the body of believers, this sys- 
tem practically confounds the rule of doctrine with a sort 
of catalogue of interdictions and penalties corresponding 
to faults and offenses which are of daily occurrence. 
Everything in everyday life was included, but true 
piety was deprived of all initiative, and religious guid- 
ance reduced to the almost automatic application of a 
tariff. It is convenient, but genuine religious sentiment, 
as well as genuine morality, has nothing to gain from it : 
the triumph all goes to sacramental mechanism. 
» The excess of the evil supplies the remedy. Just as 
the intolerable ills engendered by political disorder end 
in giving birth to an immense longing for peace and 
stability on the part of the inhabitants of the towns, so the 
Church came to realize her fallen condition and feel a 
desire to stand on her feet again. With a keen sense 
for reality, she was convinced that the deeper cause of 
her misery lay in the feudal anarchy, the state of 


perpetual tumult in which men were living. For this 
reason she supports with all her powers the various 
efforts made to restrain violence and agitation and 
where necessary herself took the initiative. This is the 
reason also that, when she could, especially in France, 
she placed her influence at the service of the royal 
authority which, like herself, was interested in securing 
peace. But whence came to her at this time such an 
understanding of her interests and of her duties? As 
might be expected, it came first of all from the mon- 

They had attracted to themselves in this dread period 
the best Christian spirits ; in them something of the intel- 
lectual culture of former days had always survived or, 
at any rate, a formal respect for " tradition,' ' if not the 
understanding of it. Now it happened that in the tenth 
century an innovation of capital importance was 
imposed upon monasticism. Up to that time each mon- 
astery lived an independent existence. While the rule it 
had accepted might make it resemble many others, it did 
not establish any link of dependence or association 
between it and them. In the tenth century, on the con- 
trary, orders were established, i.e. large associations of 
monks submissive to one common rule, peopling the 
monasteries (in some cases very numerous) scattered 
throughout Christendom, whose policies were inspired 
and directed by a single head. Thus the foundation of 
the order of Cluny in 910 marks an important epoch 
in the history of the Church. In the twelfth century the 
order had two thousand houses in France alone, and it 
will find many imitators; the Camaldoli order founded 
by St. Eomualdo, who are like the Clunisians of 
Italy, date from 1012; the abbeys of Einsiedeln in 
Switzerland and Hirschau in Germany show vigorous life 
in the eleventh century, the one at the beginning, 
the other at its end, and their rule is modeled upon 
that of Cluny; St. Bruno founds the Carthusians in 1086; 
Robert de Molesme, the Cistercians in 1098 ; St. Bernard, 
the order of Clairvaux in 1115 ; Berthold of Calabria, the 

226 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

Carmelite order in 1156. In other words, the movement 
which originated in Chmy spread through the "Western 
world for two centuries and a half, and grew there, but 
it had not to wait for this vast growth to bear fruit. 

In the first place, each monastery after undergoing 
reform according to the Cluny rule becomes a center of 
active and purified religious life, and at the same time a 
school in which clergy qualified for the parochial func- 
tions of the Church are trained. In the second place, 
the monks of Cluny, by reason of the extended range 
of their horizon, have minds hospitable to general ideas. 
They plumb the depth of the ills from which the Church 
and the faith are suffering ; they seek a remedy for them 
and, as it were, formulate a theory to get to the bottom 
of both cause and remedy. They rise above episcopal 
exclusiveness, do not stop even at the boundary lines of 
states, but look at everything from the standpoint of 
the universal Church. Quite naturally, they come to think 
that its vast body, like their own order, should have a 
sole and supreme head, who knows the salutary paths 
for it to take and leads it therein either by consent or by 
force. They themselves feel the need that this headship 
for Christendom shall be set up in order to consolidate 
and maintain their own unity, menaced as it is by feudal 
anarchy. Not by mere chance does the first great theorist 
who championed the pontifical omnipotence over the 
Church and over the rulers, and at the same time the 
relentless foe of simony and nicolaism, 13 Pope Gregory 
VII, come from Cluny. For it was among the Clunisian 
monks that the doctrine of the sovereignty of the Pope 
was really worked out in detail, and they can be 
reckoned the most active of the workers who imposed 
it upon the Christian world of the West. The estab- 
lishment of pontifical domination is a fact of capital 
importance which we must now consider by itself. 

13 I must remind readers that by simony is meant the trafficking in 
sacred things, especially ecclesiastical dignities, and by nicolaism the 
incontinence of the clergy, either by marriage or concubinage. 



Catholic theologians in our days subscribe to a doc- 
trine respecting the origin of the Papacy which might 
be described as an article of faith, obligatory upon all 
who desire to be considered orthodox, namely, the doc- 
trine that Christ himself determined the position and 
functions of the Pontiff in his Church. Consequently 
the rights and privileges of the Pope owe nothing to the 
historical development of that Church, any more than to 
any other circumstance which may have helped to con- 
firm and extend them; they were resident in St. Peter, 
implicitly, no doubt, but there in their entirety. In short, 
St. Peter and his successors in the earlier centuries, while 
not unaware that they possessed them, judged it wiser 
not to exercise them all in the beginning, and in fact they 
accommodated their action to circumstances. Use was 
made of them only on occasions when it was necessary 
to maintain intact the sacred deposit of faith and morals, 
or to safeguard the unity of the Church. The fact is that 
they deemed it wise to act on human considerations of 
expediency. They would mark time until men's minds 
were prepared to receive the truth in its fulness, and to 
comprehend all their rights. Nevertheless, the Church in 
general, and the most important of its bishops, in par- 
ticular, never any more than the Popes themselves dis- 
owned their supreme authority. 

The truth of history is widely different from this 
decidedly biased theory. 

1 Upon the whole question with which this chapter deals, see the 
first volume of Dollinger's The Papacy; Its Medieval Oriyin and Its 
Development Down to 1870; and Tunnel's Histoire du doyme de la 
papaute' (Paris, 1908). The ancient writings upon which Papacy 
founds its privileges are collected in Rauschen, Florileyium patris- 
ticwm, Vol. IX (Bonn, 1914), and all the essential documents upon 
the question will be found in Denzinger's Enchiridion symbolorum et 
defimtionum (Friburg, 1908). See the Index systematica in Ficker 
and Hermelink's Das Mittelalter, §§ 7, 8, 15. 


228 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

That Christ had no intent to found the Catholic, 
Apostolic and Roman Church is a truth which it is no 
longer necessary to demonstrate. Consequently, there is 
no further need to prove that St. Peter did not consider 
himself Pope and to show that it took a great deal of 
time — many centuries — for his successors to perceive 
that they might become Popes. The Papacy is a creation 
of man, constructed little by little in the course of the 
Church's existence, by the logic of its development and 
by a series of historical accidents. 

It is quite certain that the claims of the bishop of Eome 
to the right to conduct the Church do not date from the 
eleventh century, for long before that period he had 
gained a distinct preeminence in the hierarchy. This 
must remain incomplete, precarious and somewhat rudi- 
mentary as long as it was not authenticated by a sup- 
porting doctrine universally admitted and largely 
founded upon accepted principles and textual authori- 
ties. Now to anyone who reads the documents and inter- 
prets the facts without party bias it is clear that during 
the period preceding the fall of the Roman Empire, no 
such doctrine existed, not even in Rome. Nobody in the 
Church, during the first four or five centuries of its 
existence, seems to have been disposed to consent that 
the bishop of the City has a right to govern other bishops, 
his brethren and equals. Although his exclusive use of 
the title of "pope" was finally established and conse- 
crated by custom, it did not so belong to him at that 
time: all the bishops, the "fathers" of their flocks, are 
equipped to claim it. Until the episcopate of Celestinus 
I (422-432) the bishop of Rome gives it to his colleagues, 
and does not arrogate it to himself. It was only toward 
the seventh century that its present meaning was deter- 
mined and settled in the Western Church; and it was 
in the eighth century that John VII, in 705, first wore a 
crowned tiara. 2 

2 It was, we are told, Boniface VIII (1294-1303) who added the 
second crown, and Clement V (1305-1314) or Benedict XII (1334-1342), 
the third. 


Nevertheless, in the early ages of episcopacy, two 
main considerations had placed the bishop of Rome in 
an ecclesiastical position which was exceptional and 
practically unique. In the first place, he supervised the 
congregation in the capital city and, in the eyes of 
Romans throughout the Empire, this circumstance 
invested him with peculiar prestige. Moreover, the size 
and the wealth of his flock early permitted him to prac- 
tice, on a large scare too, the duty of fraternal charity 
for the benefit of other churches, sometimes very dis- 
tant ones. Thus, in the beginning of the second century 
Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, praised the Roman church 
as "the president of charity. , ' Those who contribute 
largely, it is said, always receive good consideration. 

On the other hand, as there was no directing authority 
installed in power at that time as head of the Church of 
Christ, the body of believers, in their difficulties and their 
needs, called up a moral authority, that of the Apostles, 
out of the past. Apostolic tradition was everywhere 
regarded as the invariable and infallible guide, both for 
faith and morals. Now this tradition which was not a 
written one was believed to dwell, so to speak, in the 
official person of the bishops who occupied the seats of 
the apostles. The bishops thus referred to were those 
who directed the affairs of the congregations said to have 
been "planted'' by the Apostles, in which the apostolic 
doctrine was, it was held, preserved in its integrity as a 
precious deposit. It was to one of these apostolic sees 
that every Church turned, when it found itself in diffi- 
culty over some dispute concerning faith or discipline. 
Now, nobody denied that the bishop of Rome occupied 
the chair of St. Peter, prince of the Apostles ; he was the 
chief official of a church which still held the memory of 
St. Paul, too, in equally vivid remembrance. With the 
tomb of the two heads of the primitive "fraternity" in its 
possession, did not the Roman community, more con- 
spicuously than any other even of the apostolic communi- 
ties, also preserve in all its purity the apostolic 
tradition? Let us add, too, that the Church of Rome 

230 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

was the only congregation throughout the West deemed 
founded by an Apostle. 

A passage from St. Iraeneus 3 throws light upon this 
point of view. He says in it that the truth lies in the 
apostolic tradition, which is preserved by the bishops of 
their choosing, whom the author can enumerate; but, as 
the list would be a long one, he will content himself in 
answer to the heretics with citing the faith of a single 
apostolic church, the one founded by the two glorious 
Apostles Peter and Paul. It readily appears that 
Irameus does not imply that the faith of Rome is to be 
adjudged better than that of any other church which had 
preserved the deposit of apostolic tradition intact, but 
merely that he is certain that she, at any rate, has pre- 
served it, and that men may confidently submit their 
disputes to her decision. This is certainly the view 
taken, during the early ages, by most of the bishops, and 
this is why they are glad to consider, not the power of 
Peter, but Peter's faith, implanted in his church as the 
basis in principle of the desired orthodoxy and unity. 
And this is why, too, that when they try but do not arrive 
at an understanding unaided they so often turn to the 
bishop of Rome to ask for a ruling which will settle the 
matter. This ruling, however, has not in any way the 
force of law for them ; they never feel themselves obliged 
to agree with it. 

Nobody therefore, in the early days of the Church, 
refused to render either deference or respect to the 
bishop of Rome; nobody was above taking counsel in 
difficulties with him ; no one denied that his opinions car- 
ried weight in all cases, and were worth considering ; but 
at the same time, nobody — and this is the essential point 
— regarded them as authoritative pronouncements; they 
were not accepted except after examination and discus- 
sion, and it often happened that they were not followed 
even after they had been solicited. 

It is not to be denied that on several occasions the 

8 Bishop of Lyons at the end of the second century : Adversus (mines 
haeroses 3, 3, 2. 


bishop of Rome speaks in a tone which might easily mis- 
lead us, and incline us to confuse the fraternal duty of 
counselor, which he often fulfilled, with the right to 
decide, which he certainly did not possess. Close scrutiny 
always reveals in such cases that his acting with a synod 
of bishops and speaking in its name explains the air of 
authority he assumes, or even that the opinion expressed 
through him is the opinion of the Western episcopate. 
He is, as a matter of fact, evidently its primate, although 
no official organization has ever bestowed this dignity 
upon him. In no case, and this I cannot too strongly 
stress, does the reception of his view by the churches 
constitute an admission of a duty to comply; they 
scrutinize his opinion carefully, and do not adopt it unless 
they think it wise. In demonstration that this is the 
historical fact, I shall recall some incidents which took 
place in the course of the first six centuries. 

In the third century the African churches, when heretics 
desired to be received into the fold of orthodoxy, were in 
the habit of rebaptizing them. The Church of Rome, on 
the contrary, maintained that baptism, provided it had 
been administered with the intention to make a person a 
Christian, was valid in itself, however unworthy the offi- 
ciant might be, or however unorthodox his creed ; accord- 
ingly, to repeat the ceremony of baptism was contrary 
to true Church order. This theory, with reason and good 
sense on its side, prevailed; it was even very properly 
generalized later, and applied to all the sacraments. 
Nevertheless, at that period the African churches adhered 
to their practice, and when Stephen of Rome undertook to 
force them to abandon it, they resisted. It became the 
occasion of an exchange of heated correspondence 
between the Pope and the bishop of Carthage, St. 
Cyprian, who was supported bj^the entire episcopate of 
the province, in his loud demand in behalf of the inde- 
pendence of every bishop. It was not the principle that 
Stephen was contesting, but only this particuular decision 
under it which he conceived to be an error. He cut off 
Cyprian from communion with him, just as Cyprian 

232 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

might have debarred Mm from communion on his side, 
had he believed it in order to do so, but the African 
churches did not yield. No one blamed them for it, and 
they even were warmly commended by Firmilian, bishop 
of Caesarea in Cappadocia. In the letter he sent express- 
ing this, we may read such sentences as the following: 
"For my own part, I am justly incensed at Stephen's 
open and manifest foolishness. He who boasts so much 
of his episcopal position, claiming that he is the successor 
of Peter, upon whom the foundations of the Church rest, 
he it is who has introduced many other foundation stones 
and begins building many churches over again, when he 
persists in authoritatively prohibiting our baptism. For 
the churches giving it are certainly the majority. . . . 
And he does not see that he is concealing and, to some 
extent, doing away with the reality of the Christian 
foundation, when he betrays and thus abandons its 
unity." Not therefore upon Stephen's authority, but by 
the sentiment of the majority, is unity of belief in the 
Church to be regulated. When at last the matters at 
issue were settled, under Stephen's successor, it was by 
a compromise which permitted each party to cling to his 
own opinion. In the third century, then, the bishop of 
Rome possessed no recognized right to regulate doctrine. 
In the fifth century another episode, having its origin 
in Africa also, leads us to a similar conclusion with 
regard to discipline. A council held at Sardica (Sophia) 
in 343 seems to have granted the Pope the right to receive 
appeals, at any rate those of bishops who were dissatis- 
fied with the reproofs recorded against them by their 
Provincial Synod, and also the right to designate the 
judges of appeal from among the bishops of a neighbor- 
ing province and to decide himself, as a last resort, in 
cases that still resisted settlement ; * but it is probable 
that this was but a circumstantial case, decided solely in 
favor of Pope Julius, in order to end a deadlock. In 
no case did the African bishops more than the Eastern 

4 The authenticity of the canons of Sardica has been disputed, and the 
matter is not yet entirely settled ; it nevertheless seems probable that 
they are genuine. 


ones regard it as dealing with a universal and lasting 
privilege to which they must necessarily bow. This is 
the attitude taken toward the bishop of Rome in Africa. 

A cleric of the diocese of Sicca, Apiarius by name, had 
been deposed by his own bishop for various grave 
breaches of his duty. He appealed from this sentence to 
osimus, bishop of Rome (417-18), not, it is plain, for a 
verdict and because he regarded him as the official head 
of all Christendom, but for an opinion because the 
importance of the church of Zosimus might effectively 
serve to get the sentence revoked, if he disapproved of it. 
Zosimus did, in fact, pronounce himself in favor of 
Apiarius. Immediately a Provincial Council met at 
Carthage in 418, and it notified the Pope that, in con- 
formity with canon law, i.e. with the rules laid down by 
the tradition of the Church and sanctioned by the Coun- 
cils, appeals must first of all be brought before the sees 
which were neighbors to the one in which the contested 
decision arose, and then, if need be, before an assembly 
of all the bishops of the Province. Consequently, who- 
ever were to carry his appeal "beyond the sea" (by 
which we must understand, to Rome) would be dismissed 
for that act from the African communion. Zosimus 
insisted; he sent legates, and appealed to pretended 
canons passed by the Council of Nicaea, which an inquiry 
on the part of Africa proved to be non-existent. Prob- 
ably they were only the canons of Sardica, of which we 
have just spoken. All that came of it was the strength- 
ening of the African churches in their position, and as 
the matter remained unsettled on the death of Zosimus, 
a fresh Council of Carthage, held in 424, wrote to the 
second Pope who had succeeded him, Celestinus, a very 
firm letter which definitely repudiated his claims, in the 
name of ecclesiastical custom, and the authentic decisions 
of the Council of Nicaea, and urged him not to renew 
them. Could it be possible, inquired the Council ironi- 
cally, that the Holy Spirit reserves his illumination for 
a single person, and denies it to a large body of bishops'? 

No less characteristic, as bearing upon the authority in 
general of the Pope, is the affair in the sixth century, 

234 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

known as the "Three Chapters," of which Pope Vivilius 
(537-555) was the hero. Three theologians of the pre- 
ceding century, the illustrious Theodore of Mopsueste, 
Theodoret of Cyr and Ibas of Edessus, were reputed in 
the Eastern Church to be Nestorian heretics. This means 
that they were credited with a refusal to the Virgin Mary 
of the title of "Mother of God" (Theotokos), recognizing 
her only as "Mother of Christ" (Christotokos), and with 
tending too completely to separate the divine from the 
human nature in the person of the Savior. For reasons 
of state the Emperor Justinian condemned them in 543 
but, since the (Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, in 
451, had already absolved two of the three incriminated, 
the imperial decision was not accepted in the Western 
Church, and Vigilius declared the three accused men were 
perfectly orthodox. In a short time he was summoned 
to Constantinople, and after imperial pressure had been 
brought to bear, he revoked his opinion and subscribed 
to their condemnation (548). Then the bishops of 
Dalmatia, Illyria, and of Gaul rose up against him and 
rejected his sentence; the bishops in Africa added 
excommunication to their censure. Finally he was forced 
to change his opinion once more, and to reinstate the 
three theologians. 

Such facts cannot be denied; efforts have been made 
to weaken the conclusions to which they lead by arguing 
that there was an evident intention to rebel against the 
legitimate authority of the Pope, or at the very least, 
that the failure to recognize his rights was temporary. 
Unfortunately these acts are so often repeated in the 
course of the first few centuries, that the exception 
becomes the rule. It must be understood that the 
examples chosen are characteristic and not unique, and 
that they might easily be multiplied. For the moment I 
shall confine myself to mentioning that of the five hun- 
dred and six years from the death of Constantine to the 
end of the dispute regarding images, 6 i.e. from 337 to 843, 

c A grave conflict, developing in two main crises in the Eastern Church 
in the eighth and ninth centuries, between those who favored the use 
of images in worship, and in the ornamentation of churches, and those 
who adhered to the letter of the Biblical prohibition against their use. 


two hundred and forty-eight of them, which is nearly half 
that time, were spent in open and avowed schism between 
the Eastern churches and Rome. The dissension divides 
up into seven crises varying in length, the shortest 
lasting eleven years, and the most protracted, sixty- 
one. The facts compel us to believe that these East- 
ern churchmen treat the claim of the Pope to primacy 
of jurisdiction very lightly, and seem to enjoy living 
in a state of insubordination. At all events, each time 
that they broke off communion with Rome, or Rome 
excommunicated them, it was done because they would 
not abandon their own point of view on some question 
of faith or discipline. 

And the Eastern churches are not the only ones to 
show this independence. When Pope Pelagius I, the suc- 
cessor of Vigilius, approves the decisions of the Fifth 
(Ecumenical Council (that held in Constantinople in 553) 
which condemn the "Three Chapters," the African 
churches give in only under the pressure of imperial 
force. Those of Aquila, Istria, Liguria, Milan and Tus- 
cany secede from Rome ; the schism of Aquila even last- 
ing until the year 700. 

Besides — if more evidence were necessary — first-hand 
study of the great disputes concerning dogma in the 
fourth, fifth and sixth centuries would show that no 
authoritative control which was universally recognized 
yet exists at the head of the Church; that although the 
bishop of Rome as a matter of fact often intervenes 
effectively, whatever authority he exercises still remains 
wholly of a practical nature. 


Not a single Patristic writing of the first six centuries 
asserts the existence of pontifical authority as a manda- 
tory right, while many, like the conciliary pronounce- 
ments already cited, invalidate it, either in so many 
words, like the passage in which St. Basil in the fourth 
century accuses the bishop of Rome of pride, presumption 

236 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

and almost of heresy, 8 or else by implication, sometimes 
all the more forcibly because the passages occur side by 
side with formulas which might at first sight create the 
contrary impression. 

Two instances may be quoted. While St. Cyprian in 
several places displays great respect for "the throne of 
Peter and the principal Church whence priestly unity had 
its rise," 7 yet his point of view does not cease to be that 
of Iraeneus. In confirmation a look is enough at his 
treatise upon the "Unity of the Catholic Church," which 
states that all the Apostles had received equal authority 
and shared similar honor, and that Peter simply hap- 
pened to be the one of the twelve to whom Christ in the 
first instance turned in bestowing this authority and 
honor, his main idea being to fix and safeguard the prin- 
ciple of the unity of the Church on which the integrity 
of the faith depends. 8 

Again, St. Jerome in 375 writes to Pope Damasius to 
ask his help in clarifying a formula which is causing 
disagreement in the Eastern church, and he says: "I 
know that the Church is built upon this rock ; whosoever 
eats of the lamb outside this dwelling suffers defilement. 
If a man remains outside the ark of Noah, shall he not 
perish in the waters of the Deluge?" But to be able to 
estimate what is back of this bit of politeness at its 
true value, the following passage must be read from 
Epistle 146, written by this same St. Jerome: "The 
Church of Rome does not indeed belong to one species, 
and every other Church in the world to another. Gaul, 
Britain, Africa, Persia, the East, India, and all barbarian 
lands adore the same Christ, following the same rule of 
truth. If search be made as to where authority lies, the 
world is much larger than the City (orbis major est 
Urbe). Wherever there is a bishop, Rome, Engubinm, 

6 Epistles 239 and 214. 

7 Epistle 55, 9 ; cf. Epistles 48, 23 ; 59, 13. 

8 De cathol. eccles. imitate, 4. Such was the passage into which a 
sentence was smuggled in Rome, in the time of Pelagius II (6th cent.) ; 
was founded, and defies it, can he regard himself as still a Churchman?" 
it runs : "He who forsakes the throne of Peter upon which the Church 
Cf. Tunnel, op. cit. p. 109. 


Constantinople . . . the dignity is the same, its sacer- 
dotal character is the same. It is not the power of wealth 
nor the humility of poverty which ranks a bishop higher 
or lower. Moreover, they are all the successors of the 

This is indeed the view taken throughout antiquity and 
in the first centuries of the Middle Ages with regard to 
the question of the primacy of the bishop of Rome. Back 
in those days it was not the Pope who regulated the 
affairs of Christendom and handed down decrees in dis- 
putes concerning dogma. This was the province of 
Councils or Synods, bodies which he does not convene — 
except, of course, those of peninsular Italy, of which he 
is the metropolitan. Nor does he preside over them save 
as the Emperor's proxy, and it is not his place to inspect 
and ratify their decisions. 

Modern Roman theologians have taken pains to make 
out that the first seven (Ecumenical Councils 9 — their 
canons are still considered by the Greek Church the basis 
of her faith and discipline — were in one way or another 
their call to meet, or their proceedings or the confirma- 
tion of their action, under the control of the Pope. 
Although they ha ?e made copious use of sophistry in 
order to convince us, none the less have they failed in 
their purpose. 

These CEcumenical Councils were not convened by the 
Pope but by the Emperor, 10 without a single exception, 
nor does he feel obliged to consult with Rome in advance. 
The Pope was not even represented at all of them; he 
did not send any legates to either the first or the second 
Council of Constantinople. He does not preside over 
them in his own legal right, and his legates experience no 
difficulty in obtaining precedence; it was solely because 

8 These are the first Council of Nicaea (325), the first of Con- 
stantinople (381), of Ephesus (431), of Chalcedon (451), second of 
Constantinople (553), third of Constantinople (680) and the second 
of Nicaea (787). 

1 ° At that time it was really the emperor who figured as head 
of the Church, even when he had the good taste not to mix up in 
theology. Theodosius considers the faith he chooses to approve as the 
principle of the Church's dogmatic unity. 

238 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

no one present cared to dispute the honorary primacy 
attached to the chair of Peter. He did not settle the 
order of the day for them, nor direct their discussions; 
he had no means at his disposal to prevent the adoption 
of resolutions which displeased him. If, from the sec- 
ond Council, a custom did become established of asking 
him to approve what had been done, it was as a sign that 
the discussion was over and peace and unity prevailed, 
and not in the least because this approval was considered 
a factor necessary to the validity of the canons. The 
proof of this reading of the situation is that while Pope 
Damasius and his successors pretend to ignore Canon 3 
of the Council of 381, by which the archbishop of Con- 
stantinople obtains the second rank in the honorary 
hierarchy, nevertheless this canon remains in full force. 
And when Leo I protests against Canon 28 of the Council 
of Chalcedon, which gives this very archbishopric of 
Constantinople the same order of preeminence in the 
Eastern Church possessed by the Pope in the Western, 
his protest has no modifying effect upon that decision. 

Note that these are canons which have a direct bearing 
upon his privileges, and affect the hierarchy of the 
Church materially, because the archbishops of Alexandria 
and Antioch previously to this period received the second 
and third "honorary" places. There is yet more to be 
said. The Eastern bishops in 381 and 451 make an effort 
to show that the privilege which assures him the first 
place for himself was his from the beginning; and they 
find just one circumstance to invoke, namely, that 
he is the bishop of ancient Rome, so that his honorary 
preeminence seems definitely in their estimation to be 
derived from the political dignity of his cathedral city! 

These things must not be forgotten when it comes time 
to consider what these same Eastern bishops mean in 
demanding from the Pope "the word of Peter" in their 
difficulties, appealing to his judgment in case of need, or 
examining, like the Fathers of Chalcedon or those of 
the third Council of Constantinople, that the Apostle him- 
self speaks by the mouth of his successor, in the one case 


Leo I, and the other Agathon. All who reckoned on the 
Pope's approval and hoped to benefit by it, found it to 
their interest to magnify his authority beforehand, and 
they did not fail to do so. Their self-seeking protesta- 
tions assuredly favored the Roman claims, but they were 
so many illusions to deceive the Pope at first glance and 
usually were not long in proving themselves false. It 
remains a truth that his opinions, always of importance 
de facto, and indeed given weight by the other bishops, 
were not more valid, de jure, than their own ; the adher- 
ence accorded them by the bishops depended upon the 
advantage which they might derive from them. 

It may happen that they create quite a scandal in the 
Church. This did occur when Pope Liberius aroused a 
great commotion in the orthodox episcopate by counte- 
nancing, for the purpose of obtaining from the emperor 
his own recall from exile, a doubtful article of faith, and 
even more by subscribing to the condemnation of 
Athanasius, the resolute foe of the Arians, in 357. Again, 
too, Honorius I, elected in 625, was accused after his 
death of the monothelist heresy (the doctrine which 
maintains that Christ has but one will, and not two, the 
one human and the other divine), and the third Council 
of Constantinople (the sixth of the (Ecumenical Councils) 
in 680 censures his memory and has his writings burnt. 

How can we fail to note also that St. Augustine, in 
his treatise on the Unity of the Church, does not even 
allude to the paramount guidance of Rome in matters of 
dogma, and that St. Vincent of Lerins, in the fifth cen- 
tury, in his Commonitorium, when he is seeking to 
determine the authentic signs or indications of ortho- 
doxy, breathes not a word of the one which today takes 
the place of all the others — agreement with the Pope? 
On the other hand, if any such sovereignty, doctrinal and 
disciplinary, of Rome had existed, it would have consti- 
tuted an obstacle in the path of heretics which they 
would endeavor to overthrow. Instead, the long lists of 
heresies which have come down to us, from St. Irameus 
in the second century to Philastrius and St. Augustine 

240 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

in the fourth and fifth, betray no traces of any systematic 
opposition to pontifical mastership on the part of any 
heretical sect whatsoever. The inference then is that no 
such mastership existed; and this is indeed the truth. 

There is more evidence. Somewhat tardily, between 
the end of the fifth and that of the eighth century, at a 
time when in practical matters the papal hegemony began 
to take something like definite shape, for instance, Leo I 
had already obtained from the Emperor Valentinian III 
(in 455) an edict sanctioning his domination over the 
Western episcopate which was based upon the merits of 
St. Peter and the prestige of the city of Eome. But 
even then, I repeat, Papacy did not yet constitute a 
special rank in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. One of the 
books of the pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite is devoted 
to this hierarchy as its subject; in it the Pope is not 
differentiated from other bishops. Isidorus of Seville 
(631) mentions patriarchs, archbishops, metropolitans, 
bishops, but not the Pope, because to him the Pope is 
only the Western patriarch, just as the archbishop of 
Alexandria is the Egyptian patriarch. He indeed heads 
the list of patriarchs, but he is not the only one, nor 
does he differ in grade from the rest. Such is still the 
point of view of the Spanish monk Beatus, in 789. No 
one at this time, it is true, is calling in question the 
prerogatives of the Roman Pontiff, but no one yet inter- 
prets them as conferring upon him a position not to be 
compared with any other and, I might say, canonically 

Moreover, many of the bishops of Rome at the time 
we are considering, and not the least important among 
them, still shield themselves with great care from any 
claim to govern the Church, while occupying St. Peter's 
throne with dignity and maintaining what they regard 
as its legitimate privileges, never sparing either their 
material aid or their frequently very urgent advice to 
their episcopal brethren. Of such were Leo I, Pelagius I, 
and Gregory the Great. 

True enough, Pope Leo had a very exalted conception 


of his function and possibly he was the first Pontiff to 
affirm distinctly that Peter lives on ever in the person 
of his successor, the same Peter whom the Lord con- 
stituted the foundation and the head of his Church. 11 
Nevertheless, when, in 449, he made known his position 
in the dispute over dogma raised by the heresy of Euty- 
ches and wrote his "Epistle to Flavian," he does not put 
forth any claim to impose the doctrine it contains on 
his own authority without examination. He even 
explicitly declares that his opinion, in order to acquire 
the character of a rule of faith, must receive the approval 
of the other bishops. And if both East and West do 
receive it well, it is also true that they do so only after 
it has been examined and judged freely as far as its 
orthodoxy is concerned. To the emperor does Leo him- 
self attribute the role of God's agent to maintain the 
faith and unity of the Church. 

As for Pelagius I (555-560) St. Augustine is praised 
by him for calling attention to the divinely given doctrine 
which rests the Church upon the apostolic sees as its 
foundation. He himself teaches that in all doubtful cases 
the orthodox rule is to be found, in fact, in the apostolic 
churches. Now the character of apostolic does not 
belong to the church at Rome alone ; it is shared equally 
by the churches at Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, and 
yet other cities. 

Gregory the Great, at the end of the sixth century, 
refused to accept the title of oecumenical patriarch, or 
universal bishop, which he described as "folly thought- 
lessly put forward." He contented himself with the 
primacy over the churches of Italy, with which custom 
had already endowed him. 


Various causes, however, which converged in their 
working were to lead the bishop of Rome almost of neces- 
sity to believe that he possessed de jure the primacy of 
jurisdiction over the universal Church, and to claim it. 

"Epistle 25, 2. 

242 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

To begin with, the honorary primacy which he knew 
to be his due, and which none refused him, readily lent 
itself to that misconstruction, as well as the custom fol- 
lowed by many churches of seeking an arbiter of their 
disputes in Rome. The Eastern churches, in particular, 
in asking of the more steady-going Roman cast of mind a 
word of counsel which should guide them in their uncer- 
tainties and put an end to their interminable disputes, 
ran to polite exaggerations, as I have already said, and 
frequently, too, went beyond their true thought in their 
tokens of deference and submission. So much is this the 
case, indeed, that their declarations taken literally 
would seem to signify that at the close of the fruitless 
disputes which had caused them to stray from the true 
way of orthodoxy and the real faith, they were con- 
sciously returning to full allegiance by soliciting the cor- 
rection of their error at the hands of the supreme master 
of doctrine and morals. We know that this is not what 
they desired to say. But if many theologians of the 
present day persist in making the same mistake and still 
think so in the interest of their arguments, how much 
more would the Pope, in the interests of his direct per- 
sonal power, and (from his point of view) in the 
undoubted interest of the Church, be tempted to make 
the same mistake ! 

It was moreover in logical accord with the govern- 
mental course of development of the Church that its 
desire for unity, which grew always stronger and had cre- 
ated the episcopate and then in the fourth century placed 
archbishops over the bishops and "primates" or 
patriarchs above the archbishops, should not stop short 
of an absolute monarchy. And, in this event, the monarch 
could be none other than the bishop of Rome. Not only 
did he occupy the most famous of the episcopal thrones, 
but actually he was the only patriarch in the West, 
whereas there were four patriarchs who divided between 
them the care of the Eastern Church, 12 and thus seriously 

12 These were Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jersualem, the 
latter recognized in the middle of the fifth century. 


weakened their own respective authority. The his- 
torical evidence is convincing that if the logical develop- 
ment of the Church was thwarted, and instead of closer 
union an irremediable breach occurred, it was due 
entirely to the political circumstances that confronted 
the Pope of Rome with the Pope of "the new Rome" in 
the person of the patriarch of Constantinople, the 
Emperor's bishop, whose secular importance counter- 
balanced his somewhat lowly ecclesiastical origin. It cer- 
tainly was doing violence to authentic tradition for the 
bishop of a see whose very recent and obscure origin at 
Byzantium seemed to destine it to subordinate rank for- 
ever to take first place over apostolic Eastern sees, and 
become a rival to him who occupied the throne of Peter. 
When the Greek schism occurred, the Pope was already 
firmly established in what he believed to be his lawful 
position. He could therefore only consider the action of 
Cerularius, which occasioned the rupture in the eleventh 
century, as a proud and preposterous revolt against legi- 
timate authority. Thus the matter is still regarded by 
the Romanist theologians of our day. 

The situation which circumstances were preparing to 
the advantage of the Pope found in passages of Scripture 
an ally with all the means required for making it an 
ecclesiastically legal one. Many "sayings" attributed to 
the Lord, rightly or wrongly, themselves yield an inter- 
pretation which would justify the forced application 
made of them. Nevertheless that interpretation is 
improper and inappropriate. Well known are "Thou art 
Peter" and the "Feed my sheep," and the "Stablish thy 
brethren," which today still flash out in letters of gold 
above the Apostle's Confessio around the cupola of St. 
Peter's at Rome. 

Not one of the many Fathers of the Church who, during 
the first few centuries, had occasion to quote one of these 
texts and comment upon it, had uttered a single word in 
recognition of it as the basis of a claim to primacy 
in favor of the bishop of Rome, and it took him a long 
time to realize that each of them alone and all three 

244 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

together contained something of special advantage to him. 
From the middle of the fifth century, however, and the 
reign of Celestinus I, the Pope began to set store side by 
side with the apostolic dignity of Peter's seat, by the 
power of the keys and the right to bind and unbind which 
the Apostle had transmitted to him. Even so at that time 
it was but an occasional way of speaking, still far from 
conscious of its future significance. Nevertheless from 
time to time the statement reappears more or less dis- 
tinctly, and more or less widely exploited. Toward the 
end of the seventh century, in 680, Pope Agathon, to 
defend the very seriously compromised memory of 
Honorius I, whom the third Council of Constantinople 
(the sixth (Ecumenical Council) had just anathematized, 
cites, as a guarantee of the doctrinal infallibility of 
Peter's successor, the text (Lk. xxii. 32), "I made sup- 
plication for thee, that thy faith fail not . . . stablish 
thy brethren. " But this interpretation still seems at that 
late date to be due to the circumstances of the case, and 
to be wholly personal. It was totally disregarded, as 
it happened. 

The Pope will cling with increasing confidence just the 
same to this profitable interpretation and in the end 
obtain consent to it at least by the Western Church, 
inclined by disposition to submit to this impulse toward 
monarchy, which the churches of the East resist only 
because it would make them subordinate to Eome. His- 
tory tells us that they accept it in practice with respect to 
Constantinople. At the seventh (Ecumenical Council (the 
second at Nicaea), in 787, Pope Adrian I has a letter 
read, one phrase of which, at least, is very significant : 
"May the word of the Lord be fulfilled. . . . 'Thou art 
Peter,' whose throne shines in primacy throughout the 
earth, and makes it the head of all the Churches 
of God." 13 The Council does not put itself on rec- 
ord in contradiction, because it did not indeed really 
go as far as to think the direct contrary, but from that 
time the Pope and the Council no longer interpret his 

18 Denzinger, Enchiridion symo. p. 135. 


words in the same way. Where the Fathers still only 
perceived an assertion of the right to "honorary" first 
place for the occupant of Peter's throne, the pontiff 
means his words to express privileges belonging to a 
— iead of the Church possessing real jurisdiction. On 
account of this fundamental difference of opinion indeed 
the conflicts between the Eastern and the Western 
Churches at last proved irreconcilable. 


In the eighth century the actually decisive influences 
which are going to establish in the practice of the time 
the power of the Pope, come into play. These influences, 
anterior to the medieval theory of the Papacy, will raise 
him to the role of authorized head of the Church; they 
are political in their nature. 

For an indefinitely long time the people who dwelt 
within the confines of the Romania were accustomed to 
accept the idea that the Eternal City carried within her- 
self the very principle of sovereign authority, an author- 
ity vested in the Emperor, since by the will of God he 
personified, as it were, the Roman people. Now at the 
end of the fifth century the time came when there was no 
longer an Emperor in the West. For the Western 
peoples whom the idea of Roman sovereignty still domi- 
nated (an idea kept up also by the Church), the bishop 
elected by the Roman people might to some extent appear 
to be the heir to his oecumenical prestige. As a matter 
of fact, this new sovereign was thoroughly ill at ease, 
between the Byzantine Emperor who continued to con- 
sider himself the master of Rome, and the King of 
Lombardy who desired to seize the city. To free him- 
self both from the tyranny of the one and the impend- 
ing yoke of the other he appealed to the King of the 
Franks who, in fact, did rid him of his enemies and 
granted him his hazardous goodwill. 

He made the Pope a prince, by taking seriously a pre- 
tended deed of gift of Constantine's, forged in Rome 

246 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

probably in the second half of the eighth century, 14 which 
assigns to the first Christian Emperor the act of granting 
the constitution of St. Peter's patrimony. He confirmed 
and amplified its rulings. Moreover Charlemagne was 
willing to admit that the Church should have a spiritual 
head in Rome, since his Empire, the Empire of the West, 
reestablished probably at the suggestion of the Pope, 
had a temporal head in his own person. He did not 
forget, however, that Rome formed a part of that 
Empire, nor to retain his authority there, so that the 
sovereign jurisdiction of the Pope still remained for some 
time yet merely nominal. 

But Charlemagne's power of domination did not sur- 
vive him and, thanks to the feebleness of his successors, 
the Popes were soon free of the Frankish tutelage. At 
first they gained nothing, but on the contrary lost, 
for they fell under the domination of the petty Roman 
barons, and this form of servitude carried St. Peter's 
successors into strange quarters. During the first half 
of the tenth century the Papacy seems to have fallen to 
the lowest depths. Then it was that two courtesans dis- 
posed of the episcopal miter in favor of their lovers or 
of their bastards. It may well be asked point blank how 
the prestige of the Western patriarch could have sur- 
vived such a scourge, all the more so because the papal 
authority neither de jure nor de facto, neither by bishops 
nor kings, was yet recognized as that of the lawful 
sovereign of the Church. The Papacy was saved from 
disaster, first of all, by the intervention of Otho I, king 
of Germany. Although this brought it afresh under a 
foreign hegemony, yet it restored its sense of dignity and 
supplied the means of guaranteeing it. This very resto- 
ration would later on permit it to exploit, boldly and 
vigorously, the position acquired by the bishop of Rome 
in the Church of the expiring Roman Empire, of which 
tradition had kept the memory green. Then too a num- 
ber of circumstances opportunely combined to further its 

14 The first mention of it occurs in a letter of Pope Adrian to 
Charlemagne in 777. 


rehabilitation. One of these was the foundation of the 
Holy Germanic Roman Empire in 962, which seemed to 
reestablish the ancient Roman unanimitas, no longer an 
arrangement between several secular princes, as at the 
time of Diocletian's tetrarchy, or of the partitionings of 
the fourth century, but this time between a temporal 
prince and a spiritual prince, the one, a ruler of bodies ; 
the other, a master of souls. Another of these favoring 
circumstances was the disorder of the Church, caused by 
anarchy and feudal barbarism that called for a reform, 
which to be successful must undoubtedly be the product 
of coordinated direction. And what other party capable 
of this direction could be called upon than the Western 
patriarch? And last of these favoring circumstances to 
be mentioned here was the enormous extension of the 
monastic orders, 16 for in seeking their own independence 
in the Catholic Unity which goes deeper than the diver- 
sity of dioceses, they naturally tended to confer upon the 
Church a reality as visible and as tangible as that of the 
various constituent churches, and exalted it in the person 
of its head. Certain men appeared who knew how to 
turn all these circumstances to account, and do so quite 
simply because they believed with their whole soul that it 
was their right, and even their duty, before God, and 
toward men. They established in a comparatively short 
time the powerful monarchy which has ruled Catholicism 
from the end of the eleventh century. 


Nevertheless, as late as the year 1000, the Pope had 
never once yet, of his own special authority, pronounced 
upon any doctrinal point addressed to the Catholic world, 
nor interposed his personality between a bishop and his 
flock in the ordinary management of the affairs of a 
diocese, nor yet exacted any toll or tax outside the coun- 

15 It must be clearly understood that it is a question of the orders 
which multiply their houses throughout all Christendom, operating 
everywhere as real monastic governments superimposed upon states as 
well as upon bishoprics. 

248 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

tries immediately obedient to him. But already various 
documents were current — anonymous forgeries, and more 
or less brazen — which credited to a distant past with 
which people were unacquainted and so could not dis- 
pute, the ambitions, interests and, at need, the habits of 
the present, and these were made to serve as a basis of 
the theory of the rights possessed by the Pope in the 
Church and in the world. And the profitable example 
thus set will not be lost : an extraordinary array of for- 
geries of the same nature will keep the progress of the 
Papacy company from the dawn of the feudal age to 
that of the Reformation. Scarcely anybody defends 
them today. The Romanist theologians and apologists, 
who abandon none of the results which they formerly 
were used to obtain, are reduced to apologizing for them. 
To tell the truth, they do not usually succeed very well 
either. 18 

How came it that the Roman Chancellery should be so 
unconscious of, or credulous on, the subject of forgery? 
"We do not know, but this evil seems to have overtaken it 
early, for it goes back to 451 at the Council of Chalce- 
don when the legates of Leo I, in the course of their 
protests against the privileges granted by the Council to 
the archbishop of Constantinople, produced a copy of 
Canon 6 of the Nicene Council containing a very interest- 
ing addition which proclaimed that Roman supremacy 
had always been recognized as a part of settled tradition 
(quod ecclesia romana semper Jiabuit primatum). Com- 
parison of this passage with the original Greek at once 
proved its lack of authenticity. There is no doubt that 
the legates acted in good faith, and so had the Pope 
Zosimus shortly before when he stamped the canons of 
Sardica with the authority of the Council of Nicaea and, 
in addition, donated them a sense which did not belong- 
to them. In this impervious assurance, which at last will 
impose its constructions upon centuries of ignorance, lies, 
if I may say so, the explanation of the spawning power 

16 Cf. Goyau, Vue ge'ne'rale de Vhistoire de la papaute', p. 40 et seq, 
and for the contrary standpoint, Dollinger, p. 25 et seq. 


of a practice which it would be necessary to character- 
ize severely if it proceeded from an outright dishonest 
motive. I do not mean that the conscious authors of 
these serviceable forgeries were not dishonest from our 
point of view, but it must be realized also that they were 
not so from their own. In their day texts were not 
treated with the respect with which they are surrounded 
nowadays, and in forging a document for what seemed to 
them the purpose of authenticating the truth, they 
believed themselves to be merely repairing a historical 
omission or a vexatious error in the transmission of 
records. Thus the redactors of the Liber Pontificalis (a 
collection of biographical notices about the Popes, the 
oldest parts of which go back to the first thirty years of 
the sixth century) attributed to the Eoman bishops of 
the earliest ages the temper and the interests of the 
Pontiffs of their own times. 17 Again, and still in the 
sixth century, a small armory of apocryphal documents 
appeared which were designed to oppose the menacing 
encroachments of the patriarch of Constantinople. 

There is no reason to believe that the Popes, however 
truly they may have been lacking in knowledge and criti- 
cal faculty, deliberately turned falsehood to account, but 
it is a fact that they did derive advantage thus and so 
persistently that the Greeks have some little foundation 
for saying, as they do, that the fabrication of documents 
is the characteristic industry of Rome. At these inven- 
tions Gregory VII, as well as Nicholas I, will himself be 
caught, and all the other Popes throughout the Middle 
Ages. Nearly every pontificate will add its supplement 
of false documents to this formidable corpus whence the 
theologians, St. Thomas Aquinas among them, will for a 
long period confidently derive the justification for what- 
ever the Eoman Pontiffs may desire to do or to say. 
Much more guilty than the forgers themselves are men 
such as Baronius, Bellarmin and different Jesuits who, 
in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, employed 

17 The Liber Pontificalis, many times touched up again, added to, and 
embellished, stops short at the end of the ninth century. Cf. Mgr, 
Duchesne's edition. 

250 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

their erudition and their zeal in the face of considerations 
of fact and good sense which admit of no reasonable 
rejoinder, to bolster up a body of arguments for the 
sake of conclusions drawn from them which they could 
not consent to abandon. Today, truth has obtained, and 
keeps, as ever, the last word in its custody. 18 

Toward the middle of the sixth century a Scythian 
monk, known as Dionysius the Less, who undertook to 
arrange a collection of canons of the Councils, added to 
them a certain number of decretals 10 of the Popes from 
Siritius onwards (384-399). His example was followed 
and the Dionysian supplement gradually grew in length. 
In itself this assembling together of the special decisions 
taken by the Popes and the conciliary canons in one and 
the same collection already possessed the serious disad- 
vantage, from the standpoint of tradition, of appearing 
to attribute the same authority to both. Besides it served 
as a cloak for a very handy method of action in case any 
one wished to justify any pontifical claim whatever to 
authenticate a privilege already acquired in practice : he 
had only to invent a decretal and add it to the collection. 
Who could indeed in those days verify or contest the 
authenticity of the fresh document? Now toward the 
middle of the ninth century, at the very time when the 
Papacy was getting rid of the hegemony of the Frankish 
sovereigns, a copious collection of decretals began to be 
circulated, absolutely false, which are known as the 
Decretals of the pseudo-Isidorus. They circulated under 
cover of the name of Isidorus of Seviglia, whose reputa- 
tion for learning stood very high in those ignorant days. 

There were about a hundred of these documents, attrib- 
uted to former bishops of Eome, but probably fabricated 

18 It would be wrong to believe, moreover, that opposition with respect 
to the standing of these forgeries has altogether ceased ; even today 
theologians are to be found who refuse to recognize that the famous 
De catholicae ecclesiae unitate, 4, of St. Cypria<n\ has suffered an 
interpolation, and who put their confidence in the most desperate 

19 A decretal is the term in use for a reply given by the Pope to a 
question as to a point of doctrine or discipline which has been referred 
to him, which is susceptible of a general application. 


in the Frankish countries on the left bank of the Rhine. 
The Roman claims not only found justification in them 
but at the same time the means of clarifying themselves, 
although the fact is that the forger had not done his work 
in order to. favor them. He was interested in opposing 
to the secular power, which the bishops believed to be 
encroaching upon their own, an authority remote, 
ecclesiastical in kind, like their own, from which they 
never expected to have anything to fear. This is why 
these forged decretals laid down the twofold principle 
(a) that no conciliary or synodal decision is valid with- 
out the approval of the Pope, and (b) that the supreme 
power in the Church, even in matters of faith, belongs 
to the Pope. These two principles preserved for 
bishops tyrannized over by royal personages the right 
of appeal to Rome. 

Nicholas I, elected in 858, at once accepted the forged 
decretals, and the two principles which were evolved from 
them henceforward served as the fundamental basis for 
the thesis of the supremacy of the Pope over the Council, 
and for the doctrine of infallibility upon which, mainly, 
the theory of pontifical power is founded. 

About the time of Gregory VII, in particular (1073- 
1085), the work of forging false documents and their 
systematic utilization, i.e. fitting them together into a 
body of doctrine, reached a magnitude and a degree of 
openness absolutely stupefying. The events of the past 
have no means of resisting distortion; after being 
twisted, reversed, upset, a theory is made from them 
which becomes a veritable dogma, whilst in the meantime 
Gregory himself, in 1078, is tranquilly affirming (and, I 
must repeat, quite in good faith) at a certain synod that 
he is only following the statutes of his predecessors. 20 

Toward the year 1140 the monk Gratianus, the first 
professor of canon law in the University of Bologna, 
blends together the earlier forgeries, adds others, and 
constitutes a corpus which becomes the legal framework 

20 It is naturally impossible to go into detail here; cf. Dollinger, 
op. oit. pp. 37, 41, 43, 46, etc. 

252 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

of the whole "papal system," and of the " authority " 
beyond dispute. It goes without saying, however, that 
the procedure which has succeeded so well in the past is 
not abandoned all at once : the thirteenth century employs 
it to confer upon the most favorable conclusions of the 
pontifical jurists the rank of affirmations of principle and 
of theology. The Dominican Martin of Troppau, arch- 
bishop of Gnesen in 1278, does not hesitate to carry back 
to the early days of the Church the authentic origin of 
the papal system! This obtains for him great success 
among the clerics and others imitate him who are no 
less successful, although it is difficult to maintain that 
they believe themselves also to be telling the truth. They 
render the Pope a service, but not Christendom. 

It must not be overlooked that we now find ourselves 
face to face with the work of Jurists and not with the 
interpretations of theologians. The most active of the 
Popes, such as Innocent III and Innocent IV, Clement IV, 
Boniface VIII, are themselves jurists. In their entourage 
the study of theology, of the Scriptures and of the Fathers 
is very much neglected. Nevertheless the theologians, in 
their time and place, did the cause of the Pope service; 
they brought into the case their arguments. In this 
way they have helped to establish the doctrine which 
makes the Pope the vicar of Christ on earth, and 
no longer of Peter, and all other episcopal authority an 
appendage of his authority, and reduces the rank of the 
bishops, formerly his equals, to nothing more than that 
of his lieutenants and deputies. St. Thomas Aquinas 
likens their powers and his to those of a proconsul com- 
pared with those of an emperor. His pergonal infalli- 
bility is not yet currently admitted, but that problem has 
been stated and St. Thomas solves it in the affirmative, 
saying that Christ cannot have prayed in vain that 
Peter's faith should not fail (Luke xxii. 32). 


This theory of the Church has, so to speak, a political 
aspect : by it the Pope is claiming an authority superior 


to that of kings and princes. In the Gospel it is affirmed 
that two swords suffice; ai Christ certainly meant to say 
that the government of the world is committed to the 
charge of the spiritual power and the temporal power, 
and that the two swords which serve as their symbols 
have been delivered to Peter. His successor disposes of 
them and, if he has voluntarily relinquished the temporal 
sword, he who holds it is responsible to him for the use 
he makes of it. Before these amazing ideas received 
decisive, or at least, complete and thoroughly coordi- 
nated expression by the pen of a St. Thomas Aquinas, 
they had been sown broadcast in the world of Christen- 
dom by the innumerable army of monks, in the form of 
still incomplete, but already encroaching theses. These 
monks spread themselves throughout every diocese of 
Christendom in which the " houses" of their orders arose, 
superposed themselves upon and inundated them all. In 
order to maintain their independence at close quarters 
with the local ecclesiastical authorities, they willingly 
proclaim their obedience to the universal bishop, who in 
exchange for the services they render him does not bar- 
gain with them over privileges, even to the detriment 
of the parochial clergy. It is the propaganda of the 
order of Cluny which thus prepares for the monarchy of 
Gregory VII, himself a former resident of Cluny, where 
he became impregnated with the theory which was being 
elaborated there, of a Church truly sovereign, free of the 
trammels of the passing age, purified of its errors and 
led by the Pope in the ways of the Lord. And when the 
older orders fall into decay, the Mendicant Friars, especi- 
ally the Preaching Friars, of whom St. Thomas is the 
supreme pride, will flourish opportunely to continue their 
work. Their Third Orders will extend their influence in 
the same direction, and the Inquisition will confirm it. 

Next the Pope begins to reserve to himself the right of 
confirmation over all the bishops, and also the right to 

a * This refers to the passage in Luke xxii. 38, in which the disciples, 
in reaching the Mount of Olives after the paschal supper, show Jesus 
two swords, which are their only weapons : And he said unto them, 
It is enough. It is of course understood that this text was interpreted 
symbolically to support the medieval theory of the two swords. 

254 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

settle any contested election; his court organizes itself 
for administrative work, and in it the entire life of the 
Church comes to a head. He is the supreme arbiter in 
all the lawsuits of the Church ■ his legates go in all direc- 
tions bearing his orders, with authority to represent his 
person, and to set limits, on the spot, to the powers of 
the bishops and archbishops, at which the monks 
from their side are also nibbling away. The pontifical 
taxes, beginning with "St. Peter's pence," are in opera- 
tion, and the "Servant of the Servants of G-od," as he 
is called (so that the Master's word: "Whosoever would 
be first among you shall be your servant" [Matt. xx. 27] 
may be fulfilled), begins to live like a sovereign of the age, 
even if in private life he is an ascetic. 

It would be just cause for astonishment to believe that 
any similar metamorphosis of the authentic tradition of 
the ancient Church could be accomplished with the unani- 
mous consent of kings and bishops, unless the influence 
of external causes of great potency were not only favor- 
able, but had to some extent determined and forced thia 

Two facts of capital importance thus exerted from out- 
side a decisive influence in forming the constitution of 
the Papacy. One of these was the struggle carried on by 
the Pope against the king of Germany from the end of 
the eleventh till the middle of the thirteenth centuries. 
He was obliged by it to formulate and justify his claims ; 
it gave him the opportunity to reckon up his supporters, 
and add to their number ; finally, when he emerged trium- 
phant, he had also gained the prestige of a victory which 
might appear a manifestation of the judgment of God. 
It is true enough that when he had destroyed the Hohen- 
staufen "nest of vipers" the aftermath was only a 
relapse into Italian anarchy and the creation of a des- 
perate need for money, but his triumph none the less 
appeared to consecrate his right to rule Christendom. 

The second of these favoring outside influences was 
the Crusades inspired by him, which clearly set him from 
the beginning of the eleventh century at the head of all 


the Christians fighting the infidel. The Crusades did not 
succeed, but their early ephemeral triumph, and the years 
they lasted, and then too the hope, always springing up 
again after each setback, of a forthcoming new crusade, 
enabled the Pope to keep up indefinitely his attitude of 
supreme head of all believers, and the active champion 
of the faith. Indeed it is hard to conceive the possibility 
in this period of any enterprise destined to fortify the 
faith and extend its domain which did not either initiate 
with the Pontiff or place itself under his protection. 

Last of these favoring outside influences and chief of 
them all, the Crusades enabled Western peoples to redis- 
cover the East. At least one consequence of this renewal 
of acquaintance is as important for the Papacy as for the 
faith. I mean the revival of intellectual activity which 
will blossom out into Scholasticism and produce the great 
doctors which exalted the fact and the principle of pon- 
tifical sovereignty to the dignity of a dogma. 



The Clunisian reform had done more than reinstate 
many of the conventual schools; it had stimulated the 
zeal for study of the best among the bishops and, from 
the ninth century, several episcopal schools acquired 
justly earned renown; that of Rheims, for instance, and 
that of Chartres, and afterwards those of Tours and of 
Le Bee in Normandy. Bishops were no longer satisfied 
to stop with the slight elementary instruction only, which 
would remain all that the lesser clergy received until the 
time when the universities should be developed; under 
Fulbert of Chartres, Beranger of Tours, Lanfranc of 
Le Bee, theological problems were attacked afresh by 
student groups. In 1050 in a controversy respecting the 
Lord's Supper we find the disputants making use of the 
processes of Aristotelian logic, which we may consider 
therefore to be the dawn of the era of Scholasticism. In 
the sixth century the word scholasticus is used concur- 
rently with capiscola and magister scholae to denote the 
master of a school. As it is he usually who teaches 
dialectics, the most exalted of the secular sciences and 
the sole survival of philosophy, the word passes over 
from the person to the thing, and that which is scholastic 
is first of all the science and method of reasoning. When 
the signification of the word becomes further extended, 
under the term scholastic will be included all the reli- 

1 Hureau, Histoire de la pMlosophie scholastique (Paris, 1S72- 
1880) ; De Wulf, Histoi/re de la pMlosophie me'die'vale (Louvain, 
1912) ; and Civilization and Philosophy in the Middle Ages (1921) ; 
Deussen, Die Philoso-phie des Mittelalters (Leipzig, 1915) ; E. Gil- 
son, Le philosopMe au< Moyen Age (Paris, 1922; 2 vols., giving a full 
bibliography) ; L. Rougier, La Scholastique et le Thomisme (Paris, 



gious philosophy of the Middle Ages, for it will employ 
dialectics as the prime instrument of its investigation and 
the bulwark of its method. 

Strictly speaking it can be maintained that Scholas- 
ticism dates much further back than the eleventh cen- 
tury, that it has its roots in the Carlovingian renascence. 
Already, then, such men as Alcuin (735-804), Rabanus 
Maurus (776-816) and Scotus Erigena himself apply 
themselves to systematize in accordance with the rules 
and processes of Aristotelian logic ideas which they bor- 
row in the main from Plato or from pseudo-Dionysius 
the Areopagite. If Erigena were not, as has been pre- 
viously pointed out, really a solitary in his day due to 
the originality and the boldness of his conceptions, he 
might be termed the first of the great Schoolmen, for he 
conceives philosophy, systematized through the use of 
dialectics, as the science of the faith and the understand- 
ing of dogma. 2 But to tell the truth, the dialecticians of 
the ninth century, and even those of the first half of the 
tenth, do not always deal in their arguments with really 
lofty subjects; little by little they perfect their method 
through discussions which appear to us extremely 
puerile. 3 Only when it is applied to the great problem 
of the relations between knowledge, reason and faith, 
does it deserve to be taken seriously, and no earlier than 
toward the middle of the eleventh century did it reach 
that point. Some years later still appear Roscellinus, 
William of Champeaux and, particularly, St. Anselm 
(1033-1109), whose names are prominent among the 

The problem put before the Schoolmen, which they so 
long debated, seems really as old as Christianity itself, 
since it is locked up in the following terms : how to recon- 
cile reason and revelation, science and faith, philosophy 

2 He says, indeed : Qmd allied de philosopMa tractare, nisi verae re- 
ligionis . . . regulas exponere. 

3 They inquire, for instance, whether God could choose as a Redeemer 
a woman or a demon or an ass, or even a plant or a stone ; they discuss 
the question whether a prostitute can become a virgin again through 
Divine grace, or whether a mouse that nibbles a consecrated wafer really 
eats the Lord's body ! 

258 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

and theology? The doctors of Christian antiquity, who 
did not shun this riddle, extricated themselves from the 
embarrassment to which it might have put them by affirm- 
ing, with more hardihood than likelihood, that no more 
than one source of truth, the Logos, had ever existed, and 
that everything of any value in human wisdom, especially 
in Greek philosophy, flowed from that sole source. Plato 
himself was reputed to have pilfered from Moses. 
Clement of Alexandria, Origen, St. Basil, and even St. 
Augustine all became persuaded, in differing degrees, 
that such was the secret of pagan science. If indeed 
science and truth flow from one common source, reconcil- 
ing differences between them presents in principle no 
impossibilities; they ought even to be easily resolved, 
provided the analysis is carried out with scrupulous care 
and the constituent elements on both sides are compared 
with discernment. In this way there comes a moment in 
which the intellect nourished upon human knowledge 
helps the reason to accept faith, and in which, conversely, 
faith helps the intellect to penetrate the truths of science. 
I believe that I may understand {credo ut intelligam) 
said St. Augustine, and also: I understand that I may 
believe (intelligo ut credam) ; but he put the emphasis on 
the first of these two principles while the Schoolmen 
gave the preference to the second. 

The point of departure in all their speculations, then, 
was a confidence that revealed dogma and natural reason 
could not be contradictory, since both proceed from God, 
who neither deceives nor can be deceived. The office 
of the philosopher is to dissipate the false semblance in 
the apparent opposition or difference. He has not, prop- 
erly speaking, to search for supernatural truth, for that 
has been found and is known, since it is enclosed and 
expressed in dogma. Instead it is his part to explain 
and expound supernatural truth by the appeal to reason 
and to reconcile it with science, which is itself also sup- 
posed to be finished and perfected. 

This was evidently a less daring prospectus in the 
eleventh century than it came to be in the nineteenth 


(in which, however, it did reappear), for in those days 
of semi-barbarism science, in the true sense, seems to 
have been in a wretched state. In any case, as far as the 
Christian side is concerned, this project came into colli- 
sion with very many more obstacles than it would have 
encountered in the days of Augustine, and it then 
appeared already singularly hazardous. In the interval 
the conception of the Church, for instance, had been 
transformed, the number of its practices had been 
increased and its sacraments developed. The bear- 
ing and the working methods of grace, the forms and 
significance of the rite of penance, were no longer thought 
of in the same way. Mariolatry and the worship of the 
saints afforded piety a fresh field, both extensive and 
fertile. All these additions had been acquired by the 
faith since the fifth century. They had to be explained, 
justified, and reconciled, not only with the older form of 
Christianity, but also with the principles of secular 
philosophy, in this case that of Plato — or of Plotinus — 
and very soon of Aristotle. To explain the riddle of 
movement while maintaining immutability, to seat Plato 
and Aristotle down with the company of the Apostles, 
and extract from their arguments the light of revelation, 
was indeed to undertake a Herculean task. Why be sur- 
prised that in the end the doctors of the Schools found 
their labors wasted and felt forced to content themselves 
with placing side by side that which they had failed to 
join together and filling up with words the inevitable 
gaps in their arguments. 

In principle, then, the task was to take the initial 
postulate of revelation, which is naturally incontestable, 
and found upon it a veritable science of faith, which has 
only to be understood to be accepted. The inner religious 
sentiment, currently known as religious experience, is not 
formally ruled out of court, to be sure, but its indis- 
pensability is lost sight of in the vigor of the intellectual 
operations carried on. For the disputes between the doc- 
tors, in reality, scarcely refer to anything but the validity 
of this or that one of these operations. The articles of 

260 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

faith which the reason does not spontaneously accept it 
must be constrained to underwrite, without, however, 
obliging it to act out of character. 

A faith which is seeking to become intellectually arti- 
culate, which desires to explain itself to itself and secure 
firmer coherence for itself by means of rational argu- 
mentation — this is, then, the point of departure and, as 
it were, the principle of Scholasticism. 4 St. Anselm, who 
is sometimes regarded as the true father of Scholastic 
philosophy — he has also been called the second St. 
Augustine — distinctly states that the unbelieving seek to 
grasp intellectually because they do not believe; we, on 
the contrary, seek to grasp intellectually because we 
believe : he who does not believe will never intellectually 
grasp. Nevertheless, this same Anselm is persuaded that 
forms of argumentation exist powerful enough to con- 
vince, sola ratione, both Jews and pagans, and he is hard 
on their trail. 6 

Scholasticism issued from the dialectic of the Schools 
and supports its life by it throughout its exist- 
ence; the use of this method of reasoning remains its 
essential characteristic and constitutes, as it were, its 
raison d'etre. To render its legitimacy sacrosanct, it 
even wages in the twelfth century a very stormy fight 
against the mystics who question it. This dialectic is 
fundamentally rationalistic. Let us take care, however, 
not to trip up here on a misconception. The rationalism 
of the Schools is not identical with that rationalism which 
the Church today regards as her worst enemy, because 
it relies upon human reason alone to attain truth, and 
despises revelation. The Scholastic rationalism is only a 
process of demonstration which has revelation itself for 

* St. Augustine had already said : Fides quaerit intellectum — Faith is 
seeking intelligence. 

6 Cur Deus homo. II. 22. Note that Raymond Lully, in the thirteenth 
century, still believes that all th-e articles of faith, the sacraments, the 
power of the Pope, can be proved and are proved by irresistible forms of 
argumentation, demonstrative and evident. For the making of this 
demonstration, it was only needful to possess all the secrets! of Schol- 
asticism, which this same Lully called the alchemy of words (alchimia 


its object, i.e. which aims to elucidate the mysteries it 
contains. In other words, essentially it is by nature the 
reverse of the method employed by mysticism, which 
carries on its life outside reason, in regions of intuition 
and contemplation. It is well moreover to note that all 
the Schoolmen are not rationalists to the same 
degree. Many of them (and not the least important, since 
St. Anselm is of their number) do not disdain upon 
occasion to accept the support of the mystic. We shall 
soon run across this kind of mystic again ; for the time 
being we will confine ourselves to general statements. 

These doctors make the unqualified admission that 
revealed faith rectifies and fills out reason. By itself 
this simple statement might not seem very reasonable, 
for, in order to rectify and put the finishing touches 
upon reason, the seat of operations, it is plain, must be 
external to the intellectual plane and, in the last analysis, 
to the only knowledge also which is really accessible to 
us. This embarrassment, as we shall shortly see, Kant 
turned to his own great advantage. But it does not 
halt St. Thomas Aquinas when he undertakes to argue 
as follows : Aristotle, who is reason itself, arrives at the 
conception of one only God, a personal God, independent 
of the world he has created; that is a just conception, 
but it is insufficient ; its insufficiencies are made good by 
the Christian revelation to which goes the chief credit 
of raising us to the knowledge of the true God, Three 
Persons in One. And so natural reason is indeed the 
servant of the faith (naturalis ratio subservit fidei) and 
receives from faith the benefit of many supplementary 
truths which it could not attain by the use of its own 
powers. On its side, reason renders faith the service of 
presenting it as a logical system and a truly satisfying 
science, the science of sciences, the science of God. 


The work in which the efforts of a doctor of the Schools 
would naturally come to a head was the Summum, 

262 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

the compendium, voluminous at times, of all science, 
sacred and even secular. The Summum theologicum of 
St. Thomas Aquinas is the best known, if not the most 
read, but the Middle Ages produced many others, from 
the Etymologia of Isidor of Seville and the De Universo 
of Rabanus Maurus (who died in 856) to the Margarita 
philosophic a of Reisch (1503), skipping over the cele- 
brated Livre des sentences of Peter Lombard (who died 
about 1160) and the Speculum Majus of Vincent de 
Beauvais (d. circa 1264). Each of these compendia takes 
its forerunners more or less into account, and for a longer 
or shorter period it becomes the fundamental textbook, 
which is read and reread, and commented upon in a 
varying number of schools. Peter Lombard's Sentences 
have in this way produced a vast literature, with no 
other aim than to expound and make glosses of them. 

The curious may inquire how it was that the subject, 
which was always the same, should not have been worn 
threadbare long before the Schoolmen gave up producing 
new exhibits. First of all the answer is that the subject 
was really a very capacious one in which fresh borings 
might be made almost indefinitely ; then, too, the methods 
of discussion employed gave the form of the argument 
tremendous importance, and permitted a question to be 
treated under almost innumerable aspects, which led to 
unending subtleties. The weightiest reason of all was 
that external influences intervened to freshen up, in part, 
the material used in the discussion, and still more the 
form of the debates. 

And, indeed, the secular sources from which Scholasti- 
cism draws the facts, ideas and arguments which it 
brings into conference, and forms combinations of, with 
revelation, are by no means the same throughout the 
Middle Ages. In the beginning its philosophical source 
centers almost entirely in the writings of pseudo-Diony- 
sius the Areopagite. Of Aristotle it knows but a small 
part as yet, for it does not even possess his works on 
logic, save the Categories and the Hermeneia, translated 
of old by Boetius, who died about 525. 

Dionysius the Areopagite, the story goes, was an 


Athenian senator, converted by St. Paul, and later the 
first bishop of his natal city, the companion and friend 
of the Apostles, the depositary of all the ins and outs of 
their knowledge. In reality, the writings ascribed to 
him were compiled by an unknown person, 9 toward the 
end of the fifth or the beginning of the sixth century, 
and first put into circulation by a Monophysitic sect 
about 532. The cast of these writings clearly reflects the 
general ideas and the spirit of the Neoplatonic philos- 
ophy. Their author very probably attended the lectures 
of Proclus or of Damascius, his second successor, the 
last master who taught in the University of Athens 
(closed in 529 by Justinian) the doctrine put in circula- 
tion by Ammonius Saccas in Alexandria toward the 
end of the second century, and rendered illustrious by 
the thought expended on it by Plotinus, Porphyrius, 
Jamblicus and Proclus himself. The works of the Areo- 
pagite, contested at first by the orthodox, owed their 
success to the approval of St. Maximus, who was perse- 
cuted and put to death by Monothelist heretics in 662. 
He had edited these writings, adding brief notes to them. 
The Church had adopted them because they contained 
arguments adjudged decisive, in favor of the antiquity of 
ecclesiastical institutions and clerical authority, in that 
they seemed to carry these back equally to the time of the 
Apostles. 7 

The first mention of these apocryphal writings known 
in the West is to be found in a homily of Gregory the 
Great, delivered about 600, and the first quotation from 
them appears in a letter from Adrian I to Charlemagne. 
In 827, Louis le Debonnaire received from the East a 
copy of the writings of Dionysius, and sent it to the 
Abbey of St. Denis, where upon its arrival amazing 

9 It is quite possible that he was called Dionysius, that he was an 
Athenian and even a senator, and that all these things may have helped 
to create a confusion which we are not sure was first of all intentional. 
The question of the authenticity of these writings was not actually 
raised before the fifteenth or sixteenth century (c/. Durantel, Saint 
Thomas et le Pseudo-Denis, Paris, 1919, Introduction) ; even today 
some Catholics solve it in the affirmative. It is difficult to follow them. 

7 The second of the Dionysian treatises is indeed devoted to the 
ecclesiastical hierarchy. 

264 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

miracles made their appearance and its author, whether 
in good faith or not we do not know, was identified 
with St. Denis, first bishop of Paris. As soon as Scotus 
Erigena, upon the order of Charles the Bald, had trans- 
lated into Latin the contents of the manuscript, the 
Areopagite began to be a success. 

During the whole of the Scholastic period that success 
was extraordinary. These writings which were read and 
reread unceasingly and commented upon copiously by 
such doctors as Erigena himself, Hugues de Saint-Victor, 
Albert the Great and many others, remained as it were 
the primary material of all philosophy before the reign 
of Aristotle. St. Thomas himself seems to have been 
profoundly affected by them, and it has been justly 
observed that if the works of the pseudo-Dionysius had 
been lost, they might all be recovered again from those 
of "the angelic doctor. " 

A day dawned, however, when the Areopagite lost first 
place in the esteem of the doctors; it was wrested from 
him by Aristotle. For a long time only some of his 
treatises on logic and dialectics had been known; the 
Arabs restored to them the whole of his works, which 
were translated into Latin as well as might be, and began 
to make their entry into the schools at the beginning of 
the thirteenth century. The Church at first treated them 
with suspicion, and even pronounced severe condemna- 
tion on several of them (on his Physics in 1209, and his 
Metaphysics in 1215) ; on two occasions, in 1228 and 
1231, Pope Gregory IX broke out against the whole of 
the Aristotelian teaching and ordered it to be expunged. 
A quarter of a century later the Church thought better 
of it and, at the end of the twelfth century, the Stagyrite 
had become the official philosopher of the faith: 
praecursor Christi in rebus naturalibus* 

•Several well-known doctors had taken an effective part 
in this conversion of the Church. Among them were 
Alexander of Hales, the "irrefutable doctor" (who died 

8 L. Rougier's book, mentioned on page 256, has reopened the question. 
See particularly the preface and the first hundred pages. 


in 1245), Guillaume of Auvergne, Bishop of Paris (who 
died in 1249), Vincent de Beauvais, a Dominican, the 
teacher of Louis IX 's children (whose death occurred 
about 1264), Albertus the Great, also a Dominican, and 
Provincial of his Order in Germany (died 1280), the 
Franciscan St. Bonaventura, "the seraphic doctor" 
(1221-1274) ; and supremely, St. Thomas Aquinas 
(1226-1274) and his rival Duns Scotus (1274-1308). The 
Church had perfectly understood, from bitter experience, 
that in Neoplatonism the danger of pantheism lay con- 
cealed, and that the personal God of Aristotle, the master 
of the world and yet distinct from it, was competent to 
combat this peril. She had also grasped the fact that 
Aristotle provided her with a means of subjecting nature 
which might become the source of disturbing theories to 
herself, while Aristotle conceived it as a kind of hierarchy 
of beings, with God, i.e., practically, the Church herself, 
both as its base and its summit. She had come to the 
conclusion in short that it was to her interest to annex 
Aristotle, in order to snuff out the feeblest desire for 
the free play of thought — always possible within the 
frame of Platonism — by subordinating all thinking to 
this philosophy of Aristotle's, henceforth held to be 

Undoubtedly this assimilation could not run its course 
without encountering some difficulties, or even some 
dangers, for it was a serious matter to appear to set 
the authority of Aristotle and his philosophy above that 
of the Church herself. And it was a still graver one to 
open the door of the Schools to the use of the analysis 
beloved to Aristotle and at the same time to restore to 
them the taste and possibly the aptitude for the experi- 
mental sciences. But the Church authorities pursued, as 
we say, a give and take policy; the mise au point of 
Aristotle in the interests of the Church and of the ortho- 
dox faith — an Aristotle whom his Arabic and Latin 
translators had already more than once betrayed — sub- 
jected him to such serious misreadings that the publica- 
tion of the authentic Greek text at the time of the 

266 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

Renascence produced the stupefying effect of a bolt out 
of the blue. The humanists of that day will exploit this 
discovery industriously against the faith. In the mean- 
time, the Schoolmen press into the service of orthodoxy 
that which they regard as the last word in philosophy, 
and this introduction of Aristotle the metaphysician in 
a faulty version to the Schools in the thirteenth century 
really inaugurates a fresh period of speculation; it 
restores its vigor for at least two centuries. 

It would be wrong, however, to believe that the triumph 
of Aristotle denotes the rout of Neoplatonism in the 
Schools and the elimination of the Areopagite. The two 
influences exist side by side, but that of the Stagyrite 
gains the upper hand, especially as the speculation of the 
doctors is henceforth developed more according to his 
methods, and in paths toward which his ideas seem to 
tend. The theological philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, 
considered by common consent the chef d'oeuvre of the 
Schools, is in reality a syncretism in which have been 
blended, as harmoniously as possible, elements borrowed 
from the old Greek philosophers, the Areopagite, the 
Arabs, and from Aristotle himself. Its author sees no 
contradiction between the Neoplatonic principles, tradi- 
tionally deemed proper to the study of God and of the 
soul, and those of Aristotle, which he applies particularly 
to the study of reason and the world of sense. This divi- 
sion of the whole range of speculation into two main 
series, in which different methods are employed, seems 
very artificial certainly to us. The harmonizing of his 
representation of the superior with that of the inferior 
world which contents St. Thomas, is unsatisfactory to us, 
but his contemporaries were not as exacting as we are. In 
any case, be it remembered that the great doctor is not 
by any means a renegade from the Scholastic philosophy 
which preceded him, nor exclusively an Aristotelian ; the 
exact contrary is the truth. Scholasticism in general 
employs its ingenuity in absorbing and assimilating and 
combining, as well as it may, the most varied elements of 
thought, and not in getting rid of some to the advantage 


of others. St. Thomas 's main originality dwells precisely 
in the skill with which he has fashioned his synthesis of 
doctrines which are frequently divergent, and has made 
them into an apparently coherent system. 


If I am not mistaken, it was Barthelemy St. Hilaire 
who saw in Scholasticism "the first revolt of the modern 
mind against authority." However exaggerated the 
terms of this pronouncement may be, because after all 
the doctors of the Schools did not as a rule desire to 
start a revolt against sanctioned authority in the name 
of a new principle, it nevertheless contains a fraction 
of truth. I can say as much for the definition given by 
Hegel, to whom Scholasticism is "modern science in its 
embryonic state." 

Scholasticism arises out of the conviction, which is 
indeed a very modern one, that reason has universal 
rights and that there is no assertion, however authorita- 
tive it calls itself or appears to be, which should be 
exempt from submission to the scrutiny of human knowl- 
edge. Nowadays, when Thomism presents itself as an 
obstacle to the progress of the modern spirit in the 
Church, we find it difficult to imagine that in its time it, 
and all Scholasticism with it, meant modernism. It was, 
nevertheless, a thoroughly modernist effort on the part 
of him who sought to reconcile the philosophic and 
scientific culture of the period in which it appeared with 
the faith which the tradition of the past imposed upon it. 

And it was thus that certain people in the Middle Ages 
judged of the wisdom of the Schools. Gregory IX (1227- 
1241) regarded the theologians who made the Scriptures 
pliant to the thought and reasoning of Aristotle as 
"puffed up with the spirit of vanity like leathern bot- 
tles." It was somewhat in the same terms, and entirely 
in the same spirit, that Pius X spoke not long ago of the 
modernists, who were making malapropos comparisons 
between science and orthodoxy. St. Thomas had hardly 

268 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

died (1274) when violent attacks against several points of 
his doctrine broke out in the midst of the University of 
Paris, on the score that the influence of Arab philoso- 
phers or Catharist doctors could be traced in them, just 
as today the writings of some liberal Catholics are 
denounced for their "Protestant infiltrations." In 1276, 
the bishop of Paris, Etienne Tempier, formally 
denounced the great doctor's errors, and Oxford Uni- 
versity adhered to the sentence. It will require nothing 
less than the tenacious effort of the Dominicans and the 
serviceable success of Thomism, to cause this orthodox 
opposition to fall into oblivion. 

It remains quite true that more than one danger for 
dogma lay concealed in Scholastic thought. It was not 
only the danger — a very real one, which we shall find 
recurs — of leading one doctor and another on occasion 
off into terribly slippery deductions. It was not even 
the danger of reenforcing that aristocratic intellectual- 
ism which during Christian antiquity had grievously 
divided the faithful into two parties, actually widely dif- 
ferent in faith, because it had created a doctrine which 
was inaccessible to the mass of Christians. The chief 
danger, created by the pitch of virtuosity to which it 
carried abstraction, was the danger of depriving the body 
of Christian doctrine of its real religious substance, of 
its flesh and blood, and leaving nothing more than a life- 
less metaphysical structure dependent upon a dialectic 
which had lost contact with reality. 

This danger, which Scholasticism was unable to avoid, 
was paired as an inevitable consequence with another. In 
the opinion of sensible men, does not this zeal for prop- 
ping up dogma hide an admission that a need exists for 
such support? And might not such a point of view lead 
to distressing reflections? Assuredly, and, as a matter 
of fact, it did. On the other hand, was it certain that 
all this logical and dialectical virtuosity would never be 
employed except for the benefit of orthodoxy? In 1201 a 
doctor, known as Simon of Tournay, who had just proved 
the reality of the mystery of the Trinity by ingenious 


arguments, turned round and offered to demolish these 
arguments then and there, by still more persuasive ones 
to the contrary. History adds that he became insane as 
a punishment for his rash vanity. No doubt, but who 
could guarantee that the temptation which haunted this 
man, possibly merely from pedantic vainglory, has not 
troubled the mind and heart of many another master 
among the Schoolmen ? It has been very justly observed 
that the faith of St. Thomas himself no longer showed the 
freshness of convictions unimpaired, that it had in it 
something constrained as if keyed up by force against 
powerful internal sources of perturbation. Assertions 
and beliefs which are essentially of the order of senti- 
ment and spontaneous faith cannot be submitted with 
impunity to the control of reason, and regulation by 

It is not rare even in these days for Catholic theologi- 
cal writers, among other eulogies lavished on Scholas- 
ticism by them, to profess that it has remained constantly 
uniform, restricted to the same doctrine and method, 
attached to the same conceptions of the world and of 
Truth, from one end of its long existence to the other. 
This is but comparatively true, and only if the statement 
be confined to its most general tendencies, and to appear- 
ances. In reality, the history of Scholasticism does not 
develop de piano. I do not merely mean that its learned 
men disputed often and acridly at times upon profound 
metaphysical problems, at others, upon special smaller 
points, and that sometimes certain among them, and they 
not the least important, definitely left the fold of ortho- 
doxy. I mean that the history of Scholasticism divides 
into epochs, marked by notable variations in the main 
interests of the doctors. 

First of all, mention has already been made of how 
the "discovery" of the Aristotelian philosophy in the 
original Greek profoundly modifies the very bases of 
Scholastic metaphysics in the thirteenth century. Then, 
more important still, the thought of the Schoolmen profits 
by its own experiences and evolves and changes its point 

270 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

of view by degrees, between the eleventh and the fifteenth 
centuries. In the eleventh and the twelfth, men bestow 
upon reason and argumentation their full confidence; it 
seems to them as if no dogmatic point can resist its proofs 
successfully. In the thirteenth century, the number of 
the doctors increases, universities are organized which 
propagate their learning, and then they begin to 
become more circumspect. Now they do not seek more, 
ordinarily, than to establish the general foundations of 
dogmas upon a rational basis, and call the process natural 
theology. The positive dogmas themselves are set off 
one side and declared to depend on revelation alone. In 
the fourteenth century they even abandon this platform; 
they take up the position now that dogma is altogether 
a matter of revelation, and they employ their time, either 
in caviling about details, or else turning over and over, 
vainly and to the point of humdrum, the insoluble 
enigmas in all branches of metaphysics. 

And in truth, this abandonment of their first hopes is 
proof of their defeat. Upon an undertaking impossible 
of accomplishment they have expended ill-applied but 
prodigious amounts of reasoning and reflection, and 
shown veritable speculative genius. From the eleventh 
to the fifteenth centuries, ingenious or thoughtful men 
follow each other in an uninterrupted sequence, each of 
whom has left his imprint on the Schools in a special 
nickname which seems to sum up his particular talent. 
We have St. Anselm, Hugues de St. Victor, Peter Lom- 
bard, Abelard, Alain de Lille, known as "the universal 
doctor," Alexander of Hales, "the irrefutable doctor," 
St. Bonaventura, "the seraphic doctor," St. Thomas 
Aquinas, "the angelic doctor," Duns Scotus, "the subtle 
doctor," Albertus the Great, another "universal doctor," 
Roger Bacon, "the admirable doctor," William of Ock- 
ham, "the invincible doctor," Francis Bacon, "the sub- 
lime doctor," Raymond Lully, "the enlightened doctor," 
to mention only the best known names. It is no part of 
our task to denote the differences between them, which 
sometimes divide them so that they are in a position of 


open hostility to one another, as happened in the case 
of Duns Scotus and the Thomists. Of the problems that 
they retained on which their discussions flourished, I shall 
consider only the debate concerning nominalism and 
realism. I do not select this solely because it is char- 
acteristic of the Scholastic method, and holds an impor- 
tant place in Scholastic thought, but because it also seri- 
ously affected the theory and the life of the Church and, 
as a consequence, the genesis of the Reformation. 


The question which forms the basis of the debate had 
been propounded earlier by the Neoplatonic philosopher 
Porphyrius, in his Isagoge, or Introduction to the Cate- 
gories of Aristotle. It is reduced, in short, to the ques- 
tion whether general ideas of kind,, difference, species, 
property and accident correspond with realities — the 
realia — outside our own minds, or whether, on the con- 
trary, they are but abstractions without any true exist- 
ence, the constructions of our reasoning and, ultimately, 
mere terms of language, i.e. nomina. For instance, 
beyond and above the oxen we see, has "cattlehood" a 
real existence, or is it only a manner of speaking, used to 
designate the general qualities of oxen, their hind? 
Plato's philosophy contended for the most absolute 
realism; Aristotle relaxed its rigidity, but still remained 
realist. Scholasticism could not escape the problem. 

Now let us note carefully that if the universal Catholic 
Church only lives through the faithful who compose her 
body; if, in other words, her existence is only made up 
of all these individual existences and she does not exist in 
herself and by herself outside them, then she is, posi- 
tively, only a word. For this reason, and as by instinct, 
the Church maintains that the "universals" are real 
existences (Universalia sunt realia): she is then realist. 
Common sense, on the contrary, which knows that 'our 
minds have never grasped a genus, for instance, apart 
from an individual that expresses it, and that the same is 

272 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

true with regard to all the universals, considers them 
first of all as abstractions and as words (Universalia 
sunt nomina) : it is nominalist. 

It is about 1090 that Rosecellinus, a canon of Com- 
piegne, states and fully develops the nominalist thesis: 
there is no real existence save in the particular, the indi- 
vidual, the thing. In that event, what is religion, other 
than a mere frame or setting for the convictions of 
individuals? What is sin, other than personal infringe- 
ments of the law of God? And what is original sin, other 
than a flatus vocis, a mere manner of speaking? And 
what is the Trinity, what the Divine Essence, that famous 
ouSia of the Arian disputes, if not ordinary ways of 
denoting the Three Persons? All this was perceived and 
uttered by Roscellinus, more or less clearly. A council 
held at Soissons condemned him in 1092, and nominalism 
seemed to vanish from the Schools. 

In reality, on the contrary, it lived on therein, a deep 
and hidden life, in the form of conceptualism, which the 
Stoic philosophy had already conceived in outline, but 
which in the Middle Ages Abelard (1079-1142) was to 
father. The illustrious doctor observed that to assert 
the real existence of the universals entailed their recog- 
nition as the only reality in existence and, consequently, 
meant that all individuals, all particular diversities, are 
blended in a single being and are, positively, all the same 
thing. On the other hand, it seemed impossible to him 
to say that the universals had no reality, because they 
represented a concept, an idea of our minds. It is evi- 
dent that this " correction" of nominalism in itself was 
of slight import, and yet singularly favorable to it, for of 
what in truth may be a reality which can be entirely con- 
tained within a concept, which is nothing more than a 
concept? Concepts certainly have an ideal value, but not 
a real one, or at any rate, it is impossible for us to know 
whether they have one, which practically comes to the 
same thing. Nevertheless, even beyond the extraordi- 
nary personal success attained by conceptualism under 
Abelard when he taught in Paris, it found great and last- 


ing favor in the Schools. 9 Masters like Vincent de 
Beauvais, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, clung to it more 
or less tenaciously in order to avoid the difficulties of 
realism, properly so named, and accentuated as best they 
could everything in it favorable to the realist position. 
It was, too, a man who was a product of the joint influ- 
ences of the "angelic" and the "subtle" doctor, Durand 
de St. Pourcain, bishop of Meaux (who died in 1332), who 
said: to exist means to be, individually, an assertion 
which is entirely nominalist. 

His contemporary, the Franciscan "William of Ockham, 
(1270-1343), to whom is attributed the official renascence 
of the doctrine condemned in Roscellinus, does not go 
further when he proclaims that the sole thing that exists 
is the individual. 

The important point for us here is not the details of 
William of Ockham 's thought, which was destined to 
exercise so much influence during the later periods of the 
Scholastic philosophy; neither is it its political applica- 
tions, which will shortly appear, but the general conclu- 
sion at which it stops short, namely, that we cannot arrive 
at any certainty in the domain of metaphysics or of 
theology. It is as impossible to demonstrate the exist- 
ence of God as it is his unity. Essential truths, such as 
the workings of Providence, the fall of man, redemption, 
we cannot really knoiv at all, we can only believe that 
which the faith teaches us respecting them. What is this 
but to say that science and faith move upon different 
planes, which cannot be confused, and to reduce all the 
acquirement of the Schools to a useless collection of bar- 
ren hypotheses? To understand nature, she must be 
studied directly for her own sake. As for the super- 
natural, we must be content to believe in it if we can. 

The advocates of the real did not give way without 
resistance, and the strife lasted throughout the fourteenth 
and the fifteenth centuries, but the theology and the 

8 It must not however be thought that opinion with respect to the 
question of the universals was strictly divided into two propositions ; 
each of them included varying degrees ; John of Salisbury reckoned 
them to be as many as thirteen. 

274 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

philosophy that William of Ockham differentiated will 
only be still further sundered by the force of circum- 
stance. And this separation was the death-warrant of 
Scholasticism, which the breaking forth of the humanist 
Renascence will execute. 

In the course of the Middle Ages a life of 
remarkable intensity sprang up in the Schools, and 
a select few among the clerics subjected themselves 
to stiff training in dialectic, turning the problems 
of theology round and round to look at them in 
all their aspects. Evidently, however, the science 
of the Schools, which demanded much time and a severe 
training in its acquisition, was not within the reach of the 
lower clergy, those in the country, upon whom the reli- 
gious education of the people devolved. So these smaller 
clergy remained in ignorance, and their flocks likewise. 
The Christianity by which they lived, and which they 
prospered, still retained the constitution which we have 
perceived it to acquire at the time of the Teutonic inva- 
sions, and confirmed a little later. Although mysticism 
was at first attacked fiercely as an enemy by the School- 
men, its influences almost in spite of them crept even into 
the Schools, but it could not affect the ordinary Chris- 
tian in so far as its rule and the fruits of its rule were 
concerned; for the intimate experiences which it pre- 
supposes can only be present in the consciousness of men 
sufficiently at leisure to cultivate their capacity for medi- 

As a matter of fact, the exclusive domination that the 
Schoolmen exercised upon Christian thought for more 
than three centuries bore with it, in the present as for 
the future, inestimable harm. That dominion raised to 
the status of dogma the opinion that dogma is unalter- 
able; that logic can only erect upon principles, which are 
invariable since God established them, one sole legitimate 
and enduring edifice. They set store only by logic and 
abstract truth; they neither perceive nor feel the life of 


the religious sentiment, all aquiver and fluid. By absorp- 
tion in refining the subtlety of their dialectic and piling 
up syllogisms, they become indifferent to the value of 
things ; ideas themselves are nothing more to them than 
the counters with which their reasoning operates, and 
this argumentation itself takes the place of reason and 
common sense with them. Because they pretended to 
understand everything concerning the faith, in the end 
they sterilized the faith within themselves. Certain of 
them will take this carrying a thing too far into account, 
but not until the decline of Scholasticism, for use against 
it. Of these was Gerson (1362-1429), who at length per- 
ceived that true theology was a life rather than a science, 
and repudiated these too intricate probings of the truth. 
In his last days he drew up a series of short practical 
tracts in the vulgar tongue for the use of the rank and 
file of the faithful. He is almost an exception. In the 
palmy days of the doctors of the Schools, however, their 
incapacity to explain the various aspects of the religious 
life must have struck home and sometimes, no doubt, 
they gave in to the consequences. They went so far even 
as to permit mysticism, which must have been essentially 
uncongenial to them, to enter their Schools. They accept 
it and on the demand of necessity they cultivate it, but in 
reality it slips out of the hands of their science. It itself 
is life. In Italy, mysticism raises up Giacomo of Flora 
(d. 1202), who preached the Everlasting Gospel, the gos- 
pel that the Holy Spirit inspires, and also produces the 
greatest Christian of the Middle Ages, St. Francis of 
Assisi. 10 In the fourteenth century it spreads almost 
everywhere somewhat and more especially in Germany, 
with Master Eckart, Johannis Tauler and Heinrich 
Suso. 10a In France or in the Netherlands, it inspires the 
most evangelical of books — The Imitation of Christ — the 
author of which is possibly Thomas a Kempis. It is by 
means of mysticism that the faith continues to flourish 

10 He died in 122G, the year of the birth of St. Thomas Aquinas, 
10a H. Delacroix, Essai sur le mysticisme sp6culatif en Allemagne au 
XlVe Steele (Paris, 1900). 

276 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

among the clergy, and attach itself, for instance, to the 
notion of the immaculate conception of the Virgin, whilst 
the Schoolmen cannot rise higher than the idea of the 
infallibility of the Pope or of the council, because these 
are a matter of a simple logical conclusion deduced from 
premises by a process of argumentation. Most of the 
mystics of whom I have just spoken were very highly 
cultured Schoolmen but — and this is the main point — 
they all seek the true inspiration of their spiritual life, 
not in argumentation, but in their own religious experi- 
ences. This course often made them stumble into heresy 
and several among these "Spirituals" ended their lives 
at the stake. They testify to the persistence of a vital 
and flowing religious sentiment in the very days when 
logic and formula are seeking to catch and congeal all 
religion. 11 

It is not only the play of formulas, however, that 
Christianity owes to Scholasticism, often both apt and 
striking, which will sustain Catholic theology until our 
own days but in return will prepare the triumph of 
the automatic in the thinking of the Church, by which 
true religion perishes. Certain other developments 
which present elements of some interest are also due to 
the effort of the Schools. 

In principle Scholasticism does not aim at innovation. 
It regards the domain of faith as a heritage and there- 
fore it has no right to enlarge or restrict its boundaries. 
It may only manage this heritage to the best advantage. 
It goes without saying that this profession not to depart 
from the foundations of dogmatic tradition is consonant 
with a large amount of illusion. The doctors have 
battled at times, and very violently, too, over dogmatic 
theses unknown to the Fathers. One of these, for 
instance, is the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. 
Among other Magistri, St. Anselm, St. Bernard, St. 
Thomas raise their voices against it, whilst Duns Scotus 
is inclined to accept it, and the Franciscans extol it. 

It nevertheless remains true that an absorbing anxiety 

11 For the further development of this thought, see the following 


for argumentation and demonstration is not favorable to 
theological imagination, and that the doctors prove more 
ingenious than prolific. Among the themes more or less 
unknown in Patristic times, which I have already said 
were imposed upon the Schools, a special place must be 
given to the views respecting the sacraments and 

In the eleventh century the number of the sacraments 
had not yet been determined. Abelard and Hugues de 
St. Victor counted five only, whilst Peter Lombard 
reckoned seven ia by adding Holy Orders and Extreme 
Unction. It was this latter total, universally accepted by 
the doctors of the thirteenth century, that these doctors 
justified and upheld by their dialectic, and finally induced 
the Church to regard as decreed and determined by Christ 
— a historical error which, through them, became a truth 
for faith. St. Augustine had said that a sacrament 
was the visible sign of an invisible grace ; the Scholastics, 
especially Hugues of St. Victor, Peter Lombard and St. 
Thomas Aquinas, delve thoroughly into this definition 
and succeed in imposing upon the term sacrament the 
character belonging to a magical operation of acting of 
itself, which it was only too inclined to assume from its 
very beginning. Henceforward sacraments are regarded 
as necessary intermediaries between God and man, the 
vehicles of all divine graces, the benefits of the Redemp- 
tion included. The individuality of him who administers 
them aright has no effect upon their action, and the state 
of mind of him who receives them is scarcely more 
important, since after all it is enough (except in the 
state of mortal sin, be it understood) if he does not 
deliberately resist the sacramental grace. The part 
played by faith in the process is evidently not suppressed, 
but is considerably diminished. How surprised would 
the Fathers and Augustine himself be to hear a Thomas 
Aquinas, or even a Duns Scotus, hold forth upon this 
question of sacraments ! 

Of the seven sacraments that of penance, both in theory 

12 The first ecclesiastical decision respecting the seven sacraments 
was made at the Council of Florence in 1439. 

278 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

and in practice, undergoes the most important modifica- 
tions in the Scholastic age. 

Until the thirteenth century there remained many 
doubtful points regarding this sacrament. It seems to be 
from practices originating in Irish monasteries that new- 
doctrines issued. Of these were the habit of giving abso- 
lution in the form of deprecatio pronounced over the con- 
trite penitent, before the satisfaction (satisfactio operis), 
which is usually an offering to the Church. Confession 
to a priest is not yet considered indispensable, and a 
layman may act as a substitute for the cleric, if no one of 
them is available. In the course of the thirteenth century 
the opinion becomes fixed that a priest, to whom the 
Church had confided the exercise of her power to bind 
and unbind, alone is competent to indicate to the penitent 
sinner the temporal penalties and amends which will 
absolve him from punishment in the hereafter. About 
the time of the Crusades the custom starts of attaching 
to certain meritorious actions, especially that of engaging 
in the Holy War, the benefit of indulgence, which is a 
dispensation, not from confession and repentance, but 
from the penalties incurred by sin. This indulgence 
may be a plenary one; the inadequacy of the human pay- 
ment of "satisfaction" is deemed compensated for by 
the merits of Jesus Christ and the Saints, and of these 
the Church acts as treasurer. 

Then, too, Scholastic logic pursues its course to argue 
that if the Church has received from Christ the right to 
bind and unbind, not only on earth, but in heaven, why 
should not the indulgences it dispenses affect the penal- 
ties of the after-life as much as the payments in com- 
pensation which take place on earth; not, of course, the 
pains of Hell, which are irremediable, but those of 
purgatory, which endure but for a time? This view of 
the matter, indeed, at last prevails, and its general accept- 
ance will offer ecclesiastical authorities a very dangerous 
temptation to exploit the fear of men, and the love of the 
living for the dead. It will not be long before the measure 
of the practical consequences of this lamentable acquisi- 
tion can be taken. 


Bishops alone grant indulgences, 18 and very soon the 
Pope will reserve to himself the concession of plenary 
indulgences. From the year 1215 Innocent III forbids 
the bishops to exceed the space of a year for an indulg- 
ence granted on the occasion of a church dedication, and 
forty days for all the others. And this is not by any 
means a negligible addition to the already vast privileges 
of the higher clergy and the Roman Pontiff. 

In practice these developments of the sacrament of 
penance are really of first importance. Simple-minded 
members of the laity soon become attached to the actual 
advantages this offered them, and give penance the pref- 
erence over the Eucharist, which does not safeguard them 
against the dread consequences of their sins. They seek, 
above everything else, the certainty that they will not be 
damned, and they seem to care little about the mystic 
union with the Lord, which was, however, the primary 
foundation of the authentic Christian faith. At the same 
time that Innocent III regulated the law with regard to 
indulgences, he introduced another which obliged the 
faithful to communicate at least once a year. 

The Schoolmen subjected all the sacraments to minute 
study in the same spirit as that shown by them in dealing 
with penance. Their views did not always prevail. Duns 
Scotus, for instance, failed to get his opinion established 
that the ordination of bishops was a special sacrament, 
higher in rank than ordination on Holy Orders. As 
a general rule, however, they settled the principles 
and authenticated the rites which the Council of Trent 
later definitely sanctioned. And in this way the doctors 
have furthered the ritualization of the faith, possibly an 
inevitable incident, but scarcely less dangerous for her 
than her being reduced to an arsenal of formulas and 

All the Schoolmen, and Thomas Aquinas, especially, 
have contributed toward the strengthening of pontifical- 
ism, and helped to make good and to sanctify the claims 

14 The theologians explain that this must be so because the distribu- 
tion of the divine merits which constitute the wealth of the Church 
arises from the authority (potestas juridictionis) and not from the 
mere fact of holy orders (potestas ordinis). 

280 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

of the Pope to universal jurisdiction in the Church; in 
short, to establish a dogma, based, theologically, upon 
natural and divine needs, where up to that time men had 
only recognized claims of an abstractly legal order. The 
"angelic doctor," better equipped with logic than with 
critical penetration, had argued soundly but from pass- 
ages which were perverted either in the letter or the 
spirit, and from apocryphal documents and faulty facts. 
From them he had drawn a theory which Boniface VIII 
himself will not exceed. 1 * The Schoolmen could not dis- 
pense with argumentation about the Church nor, if I may 
put it thus, with reasoning the Church into the open, 
reducing it to a system. They were preparing in advance 
its funeral pyre, as it will not take us long to realize. 
The greatest danger that lay hidden in Scholasticism for 
the Christian religion did not lie there, however, but in 
the very foundation of its whole system, namely, in its 
claim to rationalize faith. A man of our own time, one 
of the pioneers — and one of the victims — of the modernist 
movement, a Christian of a sensitive yet powerful mind, 
a thinker both mystic and profound, has expressed this 
truth most aptly: ... "In its idolatry of the raison 
raisonnante, in its contempt of the mystical and sub- 
conscious side of man's spiritual nature, in its saturation 
with the pantheistic tendencies of its Arabian progenitors 
scholasticism has given birth to the earlier Protestant- 
ism, to Socinianism, to Spinozism, to the Deism and 
Rationalism of the eighteenth and nineteenth cen- 
turies." 16 

14 It has been justly remarked that one of the assertions contained 
in St. Thomas' treatise Contra errores Graecorum (Quod subessc 
romano pontiflci sit de necessitate salutis) is to be found in the famous 
Bull Unam Sanctam of Boniface VIII (1302). 

i s Tyrrell, From Charybdis to Scylla, p. 329. 



A very inaccurate idea of the domination of the Church 
in the Middle Ages would result from imagining that she 
encountered no other obstacle than the ill-will, wholly 
external, offered by feudal churlishness, or the powerful 
opposition of secular princes jealous for their own au- 
tonomy, or the anticlerical dissatisfaction of her own 
adherents. She came into collision very frequently with 
resistances of conscience and even of reflective thought. 
However her tyranny might try to crush out all distinc- 
tions, she never succeeded in extorting from sentiment, 
which is the principle and sustenance of all fruitful re- 
ligious life, passive obedience in accordance with her ideal 
and her program. In all its forms, comprising even 
distortions that at first seemed the strangest, that sen- 
timent manifested itself, often regardless of its own inter- 
est, with unwearying obstinacy and ever-renewed efforts, 
in revolt against the rigid formula and the stifling regula- 
tions with which ecclesiastical authority sought to bind 
it. Eeligious thought with the aid more or less of 
philosophical speculation and scientific observation never 
entirely succumbed beneath the burden of Scholastic 
formalism, and at times it slipped out of bounds from 
orthodox immutability in various directions. 

All these attempts, differing in their origin, nature, 
significance, aim and bearing, positively only led their 
authors to disaster, either unconditional submission or 
ruthless repression. None the less are they worthy of 

1 The bibliography will be found by referring to Ficker and Her- 
melink's Das Mittelalter (table of contents and index). 


282 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

attention, and to hold their place, which is by no means 
insignificant in the course of the evolution we are endeav- 
oring to follow. 

To disobey the Church, to change anything at all, to 
add to, or take from its rule of faith, or even merely to 
go counter to its practices on any point whatsoever, is, 
in the Middle Ages, to fall into heresy, which is however, 
properly speaking, merely obstinacy in clinging to a sen- 
timent contrary to a dogma of the faith. In those days, 
the scope of the dread charge was enormously extended. 
Understood thus comprehensively heresy seemed almost 
inevitable, face to face with the contrast between that 
which faith demanded from the clergy and that which 
they bestowed upon it, which was in itself intolerable. 
There was no truly religious soul that was not shocked 
by it, and resignation has its limits. And indeed, it 
would be a source of wonder that the revolt was not more 
speedy and more general if we did not know that the 
secular force was usually hand in glove with the clergy, 
and that political conditions, with people still divided up 
into many small and frequently hostile groups, did not 
promote a working agreement between the malcontents. 
Besides, the methods of propaganda open to them, which 
were confined to the spoken or written word and, now and 
then, to deeds of violence, were neither very far-reaching 
in their scope nor productive of immediate results. The 
powers of repression, on the contrary, with the united 
and ordered forces of the whole Church at their disposal 
were very rapidly organized and brought into action 
everywhere at once. 

Moreover it will be found that most medieval heresies 
are only, as it were, incidentally of the nature of specula- 
tion, and that when they are of real practical importance, 
they rarely originate in intellectual circles — the very 
vigorous movement of the Brethren of the Free Spirit is, 
from this point of view, and in principle only, the most 
noteworthy exception. The heresies are usually a 
by-product of the action of religious sentiment, and they 
prosper among the masses particularly. Thus they are 


only incidentally dogmatic, in contrast to the Eastern 
heresies of the fourth or fifth centuries, and they readily 
assume the aspect of social demands. They appear 
therefore to be an immediate menace in the eyes of 
the secular authorities as well as of the holders of 
ecclesiastical privileges. This is why, as a rule, they 
encounter resistance from the sovereigns quite as much as 
from the bishops and the Pope ; they consolidate all the 
forces which are organized and in possession into an 
alliance. In this circumstance, assuredly, lies the main 
cause of, I will not say their lack of success, but of their 
arrested development. 


The strong invincible enemy of forced compliance and 
even of common rule and regularity is mysticism, which 
possesses the power of arousing whole populations in a 
single outburst (for its effects are contagious) as well 
as of eliciting the stubborn obstinacy of a single individ- 
ual against discipline or dogma. The embarrassments 
of all kinds that it has caused the Church are innumer- 
able. The man who believes that by his own effort he 
can rise to the divine and grasp it directly, or, if you 
prefer to word it thus, the man who feels divinity within 
him so copiously as a direct presence that his spirit is, 
as it were, deified, is not only impervious to the expostula- 
tions of reason in the realm of faith, but he is 
equally so to the obligations of commonplace discipline; 
his enthusiasm raises him above such contingencies. I 
do not mean to say, by any means, that his religion even 
so is always very exalted, for ardent mystics are to be 
found at the base as well as at the summit of the social 
scale of religion. I merely mean that from its very 
nature his religion is independent, even when it feels no 
desire to be, or even fears to appear so. It carries its 
repugnance to prescribed ecclesiastical automatism to the 
point of spontaneously acting as its contradiction and 
practical corrective, as is illustrated by its championing 

284 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

of the life of sentiment when confronted by the rigidity 
of theology. 

The Middle Ages knew many different kinds of mystics. 
There were those who sought in the apocalyptic vision 
of a glowing future a consolation for the miseries of the 
present. Others without leaving Scholasticism, or at any 
rate, not desiring to leave, put new vigor into it from 
their store of personal inspiration. Still others who 
were incapable of soaring flights, dazzling phantasies or 
trance-like meditations, endeavored by spectacular 
mortifications to atone for the sins of Christian people, 
at such times as Heaven seemed in their opinion to be 
avenging itself upon them by heavy strokes of public 
disaster. All of them for different reasons and, I might 
say, by different roads took their leave of both the 
established belief and the normal life of the Church. 

The most characteristic and the most interesting 
among the earliest of them is Giacomo of Flora, 2 the 
recognized father of the long line of Spirituals. He 
was a man subject to visions whom his contemporaries 
regarded as a prophet, though he himself never claimed 
that dignity. He had found his vocation during a 
pilgrimage to Palestine, on coming into personal con- 
tact with a great calamity, probably an outbreak of the 
plague; divers visions and revelations then explained 
the present to him, and unveiled the future. After 
spending some time in the company of the Cistercian 
order, he retired to a hermitage in Calabria, but his 
reputation followed him. Disciples flocked around him 
and he woke up to find himself the founder of a monastic 
order which was a forerunner of the Mendicants, and 
which Celestin III sanctioned in 1196. 

Giacomo 's personal success was great and lasting; it 
was not long before a copious supplement of apocryphal 
writings had been added to the authentic ones. His main 
doctrines were set forth compactly about the middle of 
the thirteenth century in a book which attained 

9 San Giovanni in Fiore, the name of the Calabrian monastery where 
he died in 1202, moreover, had been founded by him. 


extraordinary celebrity under the name of the Eternal 
Gospel. (It appeared in Paris in 1254.) It was based 
upon "the theory of the three ages," a doctrine which 
holds that the world during its existence must go through 
three great stages. The one called the Ancient Law 
Christ put an end to and it is finished; the second, still 
running its course, that of the New Law, will come to 
an end in 1260 ; 3 the third will be that of the Holy Spirit, 
from which the name of Spirituals given to the 
adherents of this doctrine is derived. This third age will 
be ushered in as the offspring of the travail of a world 
in a terrible crisis. There will follow an indefinitely 
prolonged era of peace and happiness. All men will then 
become perfect monks. It is understood that the author 
of the book was a monk, probably a Franciscan. Toward 
the religious and social world of his day he was also a 
revolutionary, who went so far as to fix the approaching 
hour of the demise of the Church, declaring that it was 
not indispensable to the world since its sacraments and 
their graces would no longer have a raison d'etre in the 
spiritual age. He also taxed organized Christendom with 
serious shortcomings. 

With the exception of some subversive ideas regard- 
ing the Trinity, the Church had not viewed the initiative 
shown by Giacomo unfavorably, but it took offense at 
the Everlasting Gospel. Pope Alexander IV denounced 
it in 1256, and its reputed author, upon the charge that 
he had retained Giacomo 's errors with respect to the 
Trinity, was condemned to lifelong imprisonment the 
following year. But Giacomo 's ideas had won over a 
number of Franciscans who, not unreasonably, found in 
them, above all with respect to the necessity of poverty, 
the spirit of the "Little Poor Man" of Assisi, and thence- 
forth the very success of their order served to propagate 

3 This figure was obtained by a process of reasoning which will give 
some idea of Giacomo's method. In the Book of Judith viii. 4, it is 
said that this exemplary woman had been a widow for the space of 
three years and six months (according to the Vulgate). This makes 
forty-two months, or 1260 days, the typological interpretation of which 
gives a prophetic date. 

286 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

them. At the same time increasing disorder in the 
Church made them equally welcome to many pions souls 
who were persuaded in their distress that salvation could 
only come now to them through a divine intervention. 
The fact is that the spiritual claims of the friars soon 
had to undergo two tests which proved of no advantage 
to it. First of all, these Giacomists or Joachimists were 
firmly convinced that the Emperor Frederic II was the 
Antichrist himself, who was to be the forerunner of 
the great renewal, but he died in 1250 without anything 
extraordinary happening at the time. In the second 
place, the fatal date, 1260, which was the occasion of 
great excitement among those who believed in it as a 
signal, came and went without producing anything at all 
expected of it. 

Many were discouraged, but not all, for I can think 
of no instance of a religious movement truly profound, 
the product of a prophecy, coming to an end because that 
prediction is not fulfilled ; it quite spontaneously reform- 
ulates its faith. The Spirituals thus made the needed 
readjustments; their celestial hopes postponed, they 
became vehement champions of the cause of ecclesiastical 
poverty, because by it God's wrath might be appeased. 
And they circulated criticisms, at times very scathing, 
of the higher clergy, "regulars" as well as " seculars," 
not even sparing the Pope himself. The consequences 
were not long delayed ; they took the form of violent per- 
secution, at any rate after the Council of Lyons (1274), 
directed especially at those within the fold of the Fran- 
ciscan order. The Conventuals pursued the Spirit- 
uals, who nevertheless were much nearer in spirit to 
St. Francis than themselves, with fierce hatred. 

It is only just to say, moreover, that in the judgment 
of more than one reasonable person, this passion for 
poverty, which the Lyons Council sought to limit vigor- 
ously, appeared to be a peril to society, because it reen- 
forced the hand to mouth existence of the lazy and all 
the other foes to hard work by a religious justification. 
For this reason the ecclesiastical authorities found them- 
selves encouraged in their efforts to repress it by 


approval which was not wholly clerical. In addition, 
the Spirituals, in spite of numerous executions, which 
were kept up until the first part of the fourteenth 
century, when John XXII had one hundred and fourteen 
of them burnt alive, were the cause perhaps not of 
serious disquietude but at any rate of unpleasantness 
very annoying to their clergy neighbors. They stub- 
bornly continued to be a living condemnation of the 
clerical regime which was corrupting the Church of 
Christ, and they were a great factor in the genesis of 
more than one heresy, although among themselves they 
usually avoided errors of dogma. Above all else, they 
implanted in the people the idea that reform was needed 
in the Church which would involve a return to the 
apostolic life.* 

The dread prophecies and the idyllic hopes of the 
Spirituals, however, were not likely to mean much to 
men whom the dialectic of the Schools had accustomed 
to believing nothing without reasoning it out first. The 
Schools therefore had their mystics, but these system- 
atized their meditations and disciplined their imagina- 
tive flights. They appeared in the declining days of 
Scholasticism, in the fourteenth and even the fifteenth 
centuries, and they seem to have originated in Germany 
and the Netherlands. 6 The best known of these are 

4 The persistence of the influence of Giacomo of Flora — at any rate 
of his theory of the three ages — is one of the most curious phenomena 
in the history of Christian mysticism ; I am not even sure that it is 
entirely at an end today. In any case men are still alive who may have 
known a spiritual prophet, one Pierre Vintras, the foreman of a paper- 
factory near Bayeux, who in 1840 began to preach the inauguration of 
the third era of the world and the reign of the Holy Spirit. The Ever- 
lasting Gospel had turned his head. He had some success, however, 
a considerable success, in fact, and was even the subject of two papal 
condemnations. To these were added many Conciliary verdicts and five 
years' imprisonment, which a police court awarded him in 1843 for 
swindling. I am not sure, however, that he deserved them. The sect 
gradually dwindled away in the early years of the Second Empire. 

5 There were, however, mystic Schoolmen to be found elsewhere. Such 
were St. Bonaventura (d. 1274) in Italy, or Jean Gerson (d. 1429) in 
France, but they remain orthodox. On the Germans who claim atten- 
tion here, of. II. Delacroix, Essai sur le mysticisme speculatif en Alle- 
magne au XlVe siecle (Paris, 1900) ; H. Lichtenberger, "Suso" in the 
Revue ties Cours et Conferences, 1910-11, Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5, 21, 30, 32, and 
"Le Mysticisme tie Maitre Eckart," in Vers VUnite, No. 1, Sept., 1921; 
L. W. Preger, Oeschichte der deutschen Mystik im Hittelalter (Leipzig, 

288 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

Master Eckart (d. 1327), and his pupils, Johannes Tauler 
(d. 1361) and Henri Suso (1295-1366) ; the unknown 
author of a book entitled German Theology (which 
Luther later highly prized and edited) ; Jean Ruysbroek 
(d. 1381); Denys the Carthusian (d. 1474) and Thomas 
a Kempis (d. 1471), the reputed author of The Imita- 
tion of Christ. I do not mean to imply, when I 
name them thus one after the other, that they are all 
closely alike and form a group. Still it is difficult to 
deny the kinship of the first five, whom the subtle 
influence of Neoplatonism inclines more or less to pan- 

We are no longer dealing with adversaries of the 
Church. Eckart, Tauler and Suso are Dominicans; 
Ruysbroek is the prior of an important monastery; all 
are in orders, and if the life led by the clergy does not 
meet with their approval, they are not upset about its 
reform. They rise above these incidentals, and it is the 
immobility of dogma, the assumed and theologically 
admitted perfection of the articles of belief, which they 
compromise. That is the reason they walk on the brink 
of heresy. Eckart, for instance, constantly medi- 
tates upon the divine essence, the relations between 
God and man, the powers, gifts and workings of the 
soul, and upon the summation of all created things in 
God. He treats all these themes by the methods of the 
Schools and arranges them in a system which no School- 
man would disavow. It is not this working agreement 
between mysticism and the Aristotelian method of 
exposition that surprises us, but the way Eckart escapes, 
regardless of what he may say and perhaps believe con- 
cerning the perfect correctness of his orthodoxy, from 
the constraints of the rule of faith and attains a kind 
of cosmic philosophy which is strangely disturbing. It is 
all the more so because its author, who is a noted 
preacher, puts it in his sermons and thus disseminates 
it in the vulgar tongue among the laics and the simpler- 


The ecclesiastical authorities were not tardy in bestir- 
ring themselves, and except the spirit of autonomy and 
solidarity governing the Preaching Order had moder- 
ated and impeded the investigation undertaken by the 
archbishop of Cologne, Eckart would probably have suf- 
fered more serious unpleasantness than the obligation 
which bound him on the eve of his death to give his 
hearers explanations of some of the opinions attributed 
to him, which seemed fairly like recantations. After his 
death, the archbishop of Cologne denounced twenty- 
eight propositions extracted from his works and, while 
softening the terms of the verdict, John XXII confirmed 
it in substance in 1329. Tauler, and still more, Ruysbroek, 
also encountered those who contradicted and even 
accused them, but in the domain in which they entrenched 
themselves defense was easy. Shielded by the subtlety 
and subjectivity of their theses, which were often dif- 
ficult to define strictly and precisely, and aided by the 
charm of their undeniable talent, as well as by their 
evident good intentions, they did not lack defenders and 

Of all their activity, which in detail is often very inter- 
esting, it will suffice to recall here the demonstration — 
a striking illustration — which official theology gave of its 
powerlessness to hinder the movement of religious sen- 
timent in the domain of speculative mysticism even 
among the very persons whose work it is to instruct the 

Quite at the other end of the scale in the groupings 
of the mystics are the Flagellants. In 1260 in the neigh- 
borhood of Perouse, processions first appeared of these 
uncouth fanatics, who believed themselves to be appeas- 
ing God and preparing the liberation of a world over- 
whelmed by sin, by scourging their backs with thongs 
and whips. The date itself of their appearance suffices 
to denote their early dependence upon the predictions 
of the Spirituals, to which they are linked at first directly, 
and later indirectly, in that the outbreak of this flogging 

290 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

mania coincides, like the mystic resolve of Giacomo him- 
self, with public calamities. The Black Plague, for 
instance, which broke out in 1347, provokes widespread 
epidemics of this fiery zeal for repentance. Germany, 
Hungary, Holland, Flanders, all Eastern France, 
after Italy, witness the peregrinations of bands of 
penitents who go through the towns and the villages 
chanting hymns and scourging each other for the space 
of thirty-three and a half days, as this is the space of time 
deemed necessary by them for the purification of their 

On their way, they massacre Jews and display their 
feelings toward the clergy by robbing the Church of its 
possessions and abusing the possessors. The Mendicant 
Friars, who try to counteract them, sometimes become 
involved in their works of violence. They put into cir- 
culation letters, come as they declare and believe from 
Heaven, which approve and justify their actions. Pope 
Clement VI is aroused by a band of them which had come 
to Avignon to make a demonstration, and in a papal bull 
of October 20, 1349, he orders the immediate dissolution 
of these associations and decrees that recalcitrants are 
to go to prison. And there were, as a fact, recalcitrants 
who submitted bravely to many tortures, for the secular 
authorities backed up those of the Church in the suppres- 
sion of these tumultuous brotherhoods. Curiously 
enough, at first sight, they found defenders, or at least 
lenient judges, in the higher clergy. In 1417, St. Vincent 
Ferrier again headed a rising of Flagellants, and it 
required nothing less than the opinion of the Council 
of Constance to make him renounce this inopportune 

Down below the agitation of these people — and this is 
the circumstance that interests us — hostility to the estab- 
lished Church was evidently strong. Not only did these 
groups no longer believe that she was fulfilling her 
divine mission, but they saw in her the main obstacle 
to the advent of that era of happiness to which they 
looked forward. 



During the Middle Ages, moreover, many heretical 
movements, or at any rate many deemed heretical, 
a good deal the same in sentiment as the Flagellants, 
sprang up among people. 9 They did not spread, nor did 
they endure, either because their promoters were not 
equal to the task, or because the ecclesiastical opposition 
was so rapidly organized that it cut short their expansion, 
or sometime from some quite different reason. None the 
less they were characteristic of an inclination fairly 
prevalent among the masses to make a stand against the 

A series of these defiances begins in the twelfth cen- 
tury, for about 1106, in the Alpine dioceses of Gap, 
Embrun and Die, a certain Pierre de Bruys sows some 
singularly bold ideas. He declares that the salvation of 
every man depends upon his own personal merits alone ; 
" works" and sacraments avail nothing; God listens to 
the prayers of the just wherever they may chance to be ; 
there is no need of a church for the purpose. No one 
need be surprised to learn that a blasphemer of this 
stamp ended his life at the stake (at St. Gilles in 1126). 
Nevertheless the theses he set up will often be taken 
over and further developed by heretics apparently unlike, 
but no doubt frequently influencing one another during 
the twelfth, thirteenth and even fourteenth centuries. 

Among the many who rebel, wild fanatics like 
Tauchelm, in the Netherlands, who espouses the Virgin 
Mary, or Eon de Loudeac, ''of the Star," who gives him- 
self out to be the Son of God, are by no means rare. Of 
such, too, are the devotees of a certain Gulielma of Milan, 
who exploit her virtues against her wishes. They look 
upon her as an incarnation of the Holy Spirit and pro- 
claim that her body, through the consubstantiality of the 
Three Persons, is the very flesh of Christ. They dream 
of founding a new church upon the revelation of which 
she is reputed to be the bearer, with Scriptures, prayers, 

8 Cf. Lea, The History of the Inquisition. Vol. I, p. G5 et scq. 

292 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

clergy of a new pattern and a female pope. This last is 
a nun named Manfreda, who celebrates mass publicly on 
Easter Day, 1300. However extreme such innovators 
may appear to us, they nevertheless found partisans, who 
believed in them to the point of going to the stake for it. 
Nor is it correct to imagine that their ranks were 
recruited solely from the ignorant and the humble ; some 
of the great families of Milan belonged to Gulielma's 
sect with its mad follies. 

The success of some of these religious agitators con- 
stitutes a very grave peril for the clergy of the countries 
to which they belong and serves as proof of the unpop- 
ularity of the Church. One of these was Henri, a monk 
of Lausanne who began in 1115 to preach throughout 
western France against the luxury and worldly life of 
the clergy, and then against tithes, offerings, sacraments 
and churches. In the South, no lesser measures than a 
mission of St. Bernard are needed to combat this teach- 
ing. Henri dies in prison about 1149, but he has stirred 
up enthusiasm in a large number of the faithful, espe- 
cially of the women, and for a long time these followers 
prolonged his influence. Others, like the Apostolic 
Friars, embrace at the start, toward the end of the thir- 
teenth century, the elementary mysticism of a certain 
Gherardo Segarelli, of Parma, and are drawn over to 
Joachism by Fra Dolcino. After large increase in their 
numbers in Germany, France and even Spain, they at 
last take up arms in Upper Italy for the vindication of 
their claims against the established Church and, also, 
to escape its harsh measures. A minor crrusade is 
needed to bring about their subjugation, which takes 
place on Mt. Zabel, near Vercellae, in 1307. 

I have as yet only spoken of movements fairly short 
in duration and of little practical import. Their main 
interest for us is the almost incessant anticlerical agita- 
tion revealed by them on the part of men who are sup- 
posed to be respectful and obedient in their attitude to 
the Church. There are other movements, much more 
widespread and deep-seated. All are inspired by uncon- 


querable hatred of the established Church ; in recoil from 
the luxurious and dissolute life of the clergy, all are 
steeped in asceticism. In addition to this twofold fea- 
ture in common, each movement has beliefs or practices 
peculiar to itself, more or less original in character, 
which sink it more or less deeply in the mire of heresy. 
I shall naturally not dwell here on any but the most 
characteristic of these movements expressive of the 
opposition of the religious sentiment to church govern- 
ment and its rule of faith. 7 

Of them all, the most powerful is that of the Catharists, 
who aim at reinstating the ancient rival of Christianity 
— Manicheism. Though persecuted and eagerly hunted, 
forced to mask itself under false appearances for the 
last two centuries of antiquity, Manicheism had none the 
less not died out. It remained in the Eastern Empire 
like an epidemic which has died down but which every 
favoring circumstance at once revives. So from time 
to time it reappeared, more or less disguised, first in 
one sect and then in another. One of these was the 
Paulicians, obscurely born in Armenia about the middle 
of the seventh century, which invaded and then, despite 
savage measures of repression, spread through the 
Byzantine Empire in the eighth and ninth centuries. 
Extremely vigorous and active besides, this sect appar- 
ently forms the connecting link between ancient Mani- 
cheism and medieval Catharism. In any case, the 
doctrine of the Albigenses, the best known of the Cathar- 
ist sects, seems in all its main points similar to that 
of the Paulicians. 

At the end of the tenth century we catch a glimpse of 
Catharists in Champagne ; at the opening of the eleventh 
they begin to be harshly treated in Italy, Sardinia, Spain, 
Aquitaine, Orleanais, and at Liege. Shortly afterwards, 
other nests of them are to be found in the north of 
France, in Flanders, Germany, England, and Lombardy, 

* Cf. Lea, History of the Inquisition, Vol. I ; Luchaire, Innocent III, 
la Crusade dcs Albigeois (Paris, 1905) ; Delacroix, op. cit.; Osborn 
Taylor, The Medieval Mind, A History of the Development of Thought 
and Emotion in the Middle Ages (London, 1911). 

294 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

and in the early thirteenth century, in Brittany and in 
Lorraine. In short, all Christendom seems to be infected, 
but the evil is specially grave in the southwest of 
France and in northern Italy; Germany and England 
appear indeed to be only slightly touched. With cer- 
tain differences of detail between group and group 
the substance of the doctrine seems to be alike every- 

Catharism is founded upon the main postulates of 
Manicheism, especially in its emphasis upon the eternal 
strife between good and evil, the opposition of matter 
to spirit, and also upon the assertion that the Catholic 
Church is the Synagogue of Satan, which has betrayed 
Divine Truth. The Trinity, the Incarnation, Eesurrec- 
tion, and Ascension, her fundamental dogmas, are so 
many errors, leading the pious astray. Her sacraments 
and her Mass, her worship of the saints and of the Vir- 
gin, her relics, veneration of the Cross and of images, her 
holy water, her indulgences, are merely superstitious, 
useless, or harmful practices. Moreover, her indulgent 
attitude toward carnal pleasures in all their forms is 
an abomination, for it is the mark of a true Christian 
to loathe the flesh and its works and, in choosing his 
food, to abstain from all animal products. 8 Her scare- 
crows, Hell and Purgatory, are ridiculous inventions, for 
it is upon this earth that the soul undergoes Hell, all the 
way through its successive incarnations, and until its 
final purification, whilst it is imprisoned in the flesh. In 
contrast with this false Church which betrays God stands 
out the true, the pure, the Catharic or purged Church 
which serves him "in spirit and in truth." 

So harsh a doctrine, clearly, could not be imposed 
upon everybody and, like the Manicheans, the Catharists 
differentiated their membership into two classes, the 

8 This doctrine is one result of the belief in transmigration which 
teaches that the soul, in leaving the body of a man, can pass into 
that of an animal. One good method, often employed in the thirteenth 
century, of unmasking a Catharist, was to give him a chicken to kill. 
By an inconsistency which is not the only one in Catharism, fishes 
and reptiles are separated from the animal kingdom, and it is permis- 
sible to kill them. 


Perfect, who obeyed it literally, and the Hearers, who 
admired it at a distance. Not only did joining the move- 
ment involve renouncing everything that orthodoxy con- 
sidered essential to faith — something too much in itself 
for most ordinary men — but we should never understand 
why the masses in the south of France, who are ease- 
loving and naturally little inclined to asceticism, con- 
sidered it at all, except their eager acquiescence be inter- 
preted to mean a reaction against Roman sacerdotalism. 
The conviction that it has failed in its task and will soon 
perish is profound and everywhere in evidence. Innocent 
III does not hesitate to admit repeatedly in his pastoral 
letters that the main cause of the success of Albigensian- 
ism is the discredit into which the clergy, through their 
own fault, have fallen. 

Southern France was possessed of an originality, it is 
true, which doubtless favored Catharism taking root 
there. It was- not intolerant ; its religious convictions, 
possibly somewhat tentative, at any rate as to their 
exact modes of expression, did not wrap themselves in 
that appearance of strict and deadly exclusiveness 
habitually met with elsewhere. For example, it was quite 
ready to put up with the presence of the Jews, to whom 
it granted the right to possess landed property, and per- 
mission to open synagogues. On the other hand, the 
nobles of the district, tolerant as they may have shown 
themselves to the Catharists or to the Waldenses, whom 
we shall shortly meet, never — with the exception of a few 
of the wives — professed membership in these sects, nor 
were they sparing of their favors to orthodox monks. 
Thus Raymond of Toulouse himself, deservedly regarded 
as very well disposed toward the Catharists, paid great 
honor to the Hospitallers and showered benefits on the 
Franciscans; his daughter Raymonde was a nun in the 
convent of Lespinasse. These inconsistencies, which we 
find a bit disconcerting, did not disturb these rather 
easygoing Southerners, but it is to be noted that they 
only occur among the aristocrats, and possibly even there 
were political in origin. They tell nothing about popular 

296 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

sentiment, which was assuredly more spontaneous and 
less given to concessions. 

Moreover toward the end of the twelfth century when 
honest folk in Lorraine, who are openly contemptuous of 
the ignorance of their parish priests, in numbers suffi- 
cient to disturb Innocent III begin to read the New 
Testament and the Psalms in the vulgar tongue, it is very 
plain that they are ripe for heresy, and already border- 
ing on schism, since they preach and listen to preaching 
and hold clandestine religious meetings together. The 
Catharists were not as a rule very learned in any science, 
but their ranks contained some experienced theologians, 
who wrote for their use books that were within their 
intellectual compass, and especially little "tracts," as we 
should call them, which passed from hand to hand, and 
circulated in great numbers. 

So much hard work was necessary on the part of the 
Church to rid herself of the Catharists that it took from 
the beginning of the eleventh century 9 until well into 
the fourteenth. The efforts of the Pope to bring the 
wanderers back to the fold by the use of persuasive meas- 
ures would probably have been in vain, and southern 
France would have slipped away from his domination, 
had it not been for the appeal he made to the secular 
power, which was the occasion of the terrible crusade 
against the Albigenses (1209-1229). The active propa- 
ganda of the Preaching Friars followed up the victory 
with a methodical pursuit of the members of the sect, 
at first under the guidance of the bishops, and then under 
the much more effective oversight of the Dominican 
Inquisition, which clinched it. Only then by massacre 
and violence at first, and afterward by organized ter- 
rorism, was Catharism vanquished. "It is necessary," 
wrote Innocent III in 1207, "that the horrors of war 
should bring them" (the Albigenses) "back to the 
truth!" It is probable that more than one convert was 
a convert with the lips only. 

8 In 1017 thirteen Catharists are burnt at Orleans ; this is the first 
mention of any persecution of the sect. 


The Waldenses have often been confused with the 
Catharists. This is a grievous mistake, for the two have 
neither the same origin nor the same doctrine ; they only 
resemble each other in their hatred of the official Church 
and in her persecutions which both have undergone. The 
Waldenses always regard the Catharists, not as brethren, 
but as heretics whom they must labor with and try to 

The originator of the Vaudois or Waldensian move- 
ment, a rich merchant of Lyons named Pierre Valdo or 
Waldes (d. in 1197), had no intention of lapsing into 
heresy, nor even into anti-sacerdotalism. There is some 
resemblance between his vocation and that of St. Francis 
of Assisi. After the Gospels and some extracts from 
Patristic writings had been translated for him he made 
up his mind that he ought to obey their teaching. So 
he sold his belongings, left his family and went on preach- 
ing journeys along the roads as he believed the Apostles 
had done. This was about 1170. Very soon, as always 
happened in those days, when mental contagion seemed 
particularly resourceful in its powers of expansion, 
imitators and disciples appeared who were called the 
Poor Brethren of Lyons. 

The excellence of their intentions was not questioned, 
but naturally their theology left something to be desired 
and the example set by them was already enough to evoke 
comparisons offensive to the clergy, toward whom their 
attitude and everyday talk could not long remain 
friendly. The Waldenses were soon in grave difficulties 
as a result. Not for some time did they seem to realize 
the actual source of these difficulties, for they appeal to 
the Pope for approval when the bishops who come in 
contact with them excommunicate them. So when 
Lucius III, wearied by their obstinacy, excommunicated 
them in his turn in 1184, they were very much surprised 
and would not believe that they had been cut off from 
the Church. 

Very quickly, however, they deviate seriously from its 
discipline and even from its beliefs, egged on as they are 

298 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

by the same steady tendencies that affect all in those days 
who fall into opposition to the clergy. They claim the 
right of the laity, and of women, to preach; they deny 
the efficacy of Masses, votive offerings and prayers for 
the dead. Some of them dispute the existence of purga- 
tory and proclaim that it is unnecessary to go to church 
to pray to God. Most vital of all, they maintain that a 
bad priest cannot administer a sacrament g that is valid, a 
proposition which does no less than deny lasting grace 
to the sacrament of Orders, and thus destroys the funda- 
mental privilege of the Church. They also reject works, 
as a substitute for piety, repentance and justice, and 
maintain that God alone has the right to forgive sins. 
Moreover, they persist in holding the conviction that the 
Scriptures are the sole law for the Christian, and upon 
them they found a moral code so strict that they too 
are obliged to differentiate their members into two 
classes, the "believers" and the "perfect," just as the 
Catharists have done. It is to this same moral code tha*" 
they cling most firmly; they die steadfastly rather than 
disavow it, and their opponents have in vain sought to 
besmirch it by drawing up base accusations against it — 
always of the same nature — that ignorant people show 
themselves everywhere and at all times disposed to 
believe against sects that feel forced to resort to more or 
less concealment. 

These Waldenses only win over the humble folk, so 
it seems, but their numbers are many, and they gain 
them very quickly too. The sect spread from one end 
of Europe to the other, and it was against them even 
that the first secular repressive legislation of these times 
(that of Alfonzo II of Aragon at the end of the twelfth 
century) was directed. Later, the Inquisition delved 
industriously into the affairs of the Waldenses and, as 
might be expected, found that the various congregations 
of their adherents differed considerably in their opinions 
and doctrines and even practices; but all felt the weight 
of its heavy hand, for all had wandered from the obedi- 
ence due to the Church. Vigorous as the repressive 


measures were, they did not triumph over them, for their 
history continues throughout the Middle Ages and is 
not yet concluded. They still number about fifty com- 
munities in Italy, and there are also important associa- 
tions in America and in England. Nevertheless, most 
of them at one date or another will amalgamate with 
some congregation of Protestant worshipers; those 
which have proved to be the most solid groups still 
preserve their existence in the Alpine valleys of Pied- 
mont and Savoy. 10 


However slight may be the study given to the reli- 
gious history of the Middle Ages, a sense of surprise will 
be felt at the number of sects which have arisen from the 
recoil of the religious sentiment against ecclesiastical 
coercion. Some of them try to arrange terms of tolera- 
tion by the Church, which at times does consent, hy m 
neutralizing them as she had done in the case of St. 
Francis. Their earlier act of submission, however, 
preserves them only too imperfectly afterward from 
ultimate lapses into the heresies which lie in wait for 
them. Others at the earliest possible moment break a 
lance with the ecclesiastical authorities and draw up a 
set of dogmas of their own in opposition to the orthodox 

To the first group, for example, belong the Patarini 
of Milan in the eleventh century, who make war upon the 
practice of concubinage and of simony by the clergy, 
which wins for them the good graces of the Pope. Then 
there are the Beguines, pious women named after 
Lambert le Begue (late twelfth century), who induces 
them to live a communal life without being nuns, and to 
lead in Maisons-Dieu a devout and charitable existence, 
the poorer ones begging the means of subsistence. This 
semi-separation from the world sometimes inclines them 
to a semi-separation from the parish clergy, and this 

10 For the bibliography see the article "Waldenses" in' The Catholic 
Encyclopaedia. Vol. XV, p. 530. 

300 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

tendency becomes emphasized in the societies of men 
who, toward the middle of the thirteenth century, organ- 
ized upon the model of the beguinages, who are called 
Beghards. Some of them will fraternize more or less 
with the Brethren of the Free Spirit, or later still sub- 
scribe to Master Eckart's theology, and their doctrine 
is accordingly held in suspicion. Most of them, no doubt, 
think aright as to the faith, but they too profess to lead 
the Gospel life, and demand that the clergy remain poor. 
That is why the Pope, the bishops and the Inquisition 
quickly unite in prosecuting them all alike, and if occasion 
demands, accept the help of the secular authorities in 
doing so, especially in the fourteenth century. These 
sectaries are, however, past masters in the art of con- 
cealment and, if those who live in nests can be readily 
ferreted out, stray individuals and the mendicant ones 
escape their pursuers pretty easily. This problem raised 
]jy the Beghards holds a very important place in the 
concerns of the Church, at the time when the Pope's 
residence was at Avignon. The brotherhoods respond 
so well to the deep need felt by the religious sentiment 
for expansion freely beyond the rigid limits in which 
the clergy desire to hold it that, as soon as one brother- 
hood is hopelessly compromised or else proscribed by 
the Church, another, resembling it, is formed. This is 
the way in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that, 
as the Beghards had done, the Brothers and Sisters of 
the Common Life, started by the initiative of Gierardus 
Groote of Deventer (d. 1484), spread rapidly. Sup- 
ported by partisans of Church reform, such as Pierre 
d'Ailly and Jean Gerson, they work for this end in their 
communal houses and in the schools for the people which 
they found. At the same time in opposition to Scholas- 
tic rationalism they advocate a return to the Scriptures, 
to St. Augustine and St. Bernard and to mysticism. 
From their circles The Imitation of Christ issues (about 
1421), which proposes, as the essential rule of all 
religious life, meditation on the life of Jesus Christ, and 
action in conformity with his spirit and his example, and 


declares that "sublime discourses do not make a man just 
and holy." "What will it avail thee," it says, "to argue 
profoundly of the Trinity if thou be void of humility and 
art thereby displeasing to the Trinity? . . . Vanity of 
vanities, all is vanity, except the love of God and his 
service only." J1 It is not hard to understand why men 
who lived to exemplify that spirit should have been 
violently attacked by the Dominicans, the spiritual sons 
of St. Thomas, and that its tendencies at least also should 
have appeared singularly dangerous to more than one 
ecclesiastical politician. We can understand, too, why 
many of them should have been inclined toward the 
Protestant Reformation as soon as it appeared; they 
are, in spirit, its precursors. But the truth of the matter 
is that they do not start any revolt against the Church, 
whose clergy remain officially, in most cases, their coun- 
selors and their guides. 12 

It is quite otherwise, for example, with the Brothers 
of the Free Spirit and the Ortlibians (so named from 
a certain Ortlieb of Strasbourg, condemned by Innocent 
III), who resemble them closely and perhaps are indis- 
tinguishable. It has been assumed, not without some 
probability, that their doctrine is a popular form of Neo- 
platonism, pantheistic in tendency as is fundamental in 
the metaphysical thought of the Middle Ages. They 
derived it not directly from the original, nor even from 
the writings of the pseudo-Dionysius, but from the the- 
ology of Amaury of Bene, which will attract our atten- 
tion again shortly. However this may be, these men let 
the mastery of the Church in their lives be displaced 
by the direct suggestions of the Holy Spirit. And since 
the Spirit cannot make a mistake, the fruits of this 

11 Imit. I, 1.3: Quid prodesset tibi alta de Trinitate disputare, si 
careres humilitate unde displiceres Trinitati? . . . Vanitas ergo rani- 
tatum et omnia ranitas, praeter amare Deum et illi soli servire. 

12 More than once the Church was ahle to attract to herself and turn 
to her own advantage movements which, originally, were by no means 
favorable to her. I have already said that this was the case with the 
Franciscan movement. It was so with the one set in motion by Giovanni 
Colombini of Siena, which is not unlike that of P. Valdo. but which, 
checked in time by the clerical authorities, merely resulted in the 
foundation of a charitable order, the Jesuati, in 1367. 

302 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

fundamental principle soon show themselves to be very 
revolutionary. He who is under the conduct of the Holy 
Spirit has no need of guidance from anybody. What- 
ever he does, he cannot err; he is really on the verge of 
Divinity in all his deeds. Then not only the Church 
with her sacraments and her disciplinary restraints 
and even her rules of dogma becomes superfluous, but 
the incarnate Christ also loses all positive significance, 
and the Scriptures cease to be of any interest. What 
the official Church recounts concerning all these matters 
supplies abundant material for meditative symbolism 
but cannot pretend to be in any degree realized; an 
austere, even ascetic, life is the only way of salvation 
that man can follow. 

Early Christianity, to be sure, had already had experi- 
ence of doctrines of this nature, which made a man 
inspired the master of his own conduct in this world and, 
drastically construed, the master of the world. In those 
far away ages, however, such doctrines had not at their 
command the means of expansion offered by the numer- 
ous pious institutions of the thirteenth and fourteenth 
centuries ; they did not answer then to certain very gen- 
eral aspirations of their age, nor did they receive the 
opportune support of that profound discontent which 
now inflamed so many of the faithful against their 
pastors. Above all, they did not have to face a Church 
with such powers of absorbing all forms and styles of 
personality as that of the Middle Ages. They accom- 
plished scarcely more in those early days than to add 
some names to the list of heresiologians, but now they 
became a grave ecclesiastical and social peril. Those 
who held these doctrines based on the guidance of the 
Holy Spirit spread everywhere throughout the coun- 
tries of Northern Europe in the fourteenth century and 
formed, as it were, a vast secret society, not absolutely 
uniform in its beliefs to be sure, and not inhospitable to 
individual initiative. Everywhere, however, it saps the 
Church and orthodoxy, and often makes game of the 
Inquisition. Vilifying its morals and accusing it of all 


kinds of turpitude are by no means measures sufficient 
to check and overcome it. 

We can give here only a very summary and rough idea 
of this multiform agitation, so prevalent that it harries 
the Church without respite at the very time when 
she seems to be most completely mistress of the thought 
and the conduct of men. Enough has already been said 
to allow glimpses to be caught of a few aspects only of 
this formidable opposition; there are others, no less 
interesting, which present philosophic thought and 
purely human science in revolt against orthodox dogma 
and revealed cognition. 





It is noteworthy that most of the weighty doctrinal 
heresies originating in the intellectual circles of the Mid- 
dle Ages take a pantheistic turn, the product of reactions 
of the old Neoplatonic spirit, rediscovered once more 
either in the writings of Scotus Erigena or of those of 
the Arabian doctors. 

In the beginning of the thirteenth century a Paris 
theologian of repute, Amaury de Bene by name — he died 
about 1204 — set out to draw from Erigena 's De divi- 
sione naturae the inspiration for ideas that are wholly 
subversive. 1 He not only maintains that God and the 
Universe make but one Whole, that everything is in 
God as God is in everything — the doctrine of pantheism 
restored once more — but he rejects entirely the Church's 
soteriology, holding that the world, which has known 
the reign of the Father, and then that of the Son, is now 
under the control of the Holy Spirit incarnate in every 
individual. Thus every man is a member or part of 
God, and carries his divine guide within him. Hence the 
sacraments are no more ecclesiastical law, or even 
evangelical law, and the external differentiation of good 
and evil are no more. It appears as if Amaury, or at 
any rate his followers, went further yet. They even 
denied man's survival after death, the resurrection and, 
consequently, the existence of heaven and hell. Heaven 
and hell are really found on earth, in peace or in agita- 
tion of mind, in the calm assurance of knowledge or the 
sterile turmoil of ignorance. 

These ideas, which are a cross between the tendencies 

of Erigena 's theories and those of the mystic concep- 

1 Cf. Delacroix, Mystiques, p. 32 et seq.; Ueberweg, Oeschichte der 
Philosophie, Vol. II, p. 222 et seq. (9th ed.). 



tions of the Spirituals, were condemned by several 
councils (in Paris in 1209, and in the Lateran Council of 
1215). As a consequence of the decisions of the councils 
executions began, and about half a score of Amaury's 
followers were burnt alive. The reading was strictly for- 
bidden moreover, either in public or in private, of the 
writings of Aristotle, which Amaury quoted in justifica- 
tion of his heretical audacities. Later on (1225) Honorius 
III again ordered Erigena's De divisione naturae, 
which appeared to be their primary source, destroyed. 
The Amauricians nevertheless increased in numbers; 
their doctrines won over some of the clergy and infected 
some of the monasteries. Moreover they made the 
adjustments required to meet the needs of divers popular 
groups, for which they drew up simple "tracts" in the 
vulgar tongue. Coming from heretics bred in the Schools, 
this propaganda seems especially interesting. Toward 
the end of the century their doctrines reappear in Simon I 
of Tournay, who died about 1293. Their principles are 
usually hard to distinguish from those of the Ortlibians, 
and of the Brethren of the Free Spirit. They flourish side 
by side, a process of doctrinal endosmosis to some extent 
going on between them. 

In the second quarter of the thirteenth century another 
great danger threatens the Church. It arises from the 
spreading influence of the Arabian philosopher Averroes, 
who extracted from Aristotle, and particularly from his 
Arabian commentators, a kind of transcendental materi- 
alism which was very formidable in combat. 2 It goes as 
far as to contend that all religions are human produc- 
tions and at bottom of equal validity; it is merely for 
reasons of personal convenience, or force of circum- 
stances, that selection is made between them. At the 
same time it shatters belief in creation ex nihilo, and in 
the resurrection; it denies the persistence of individ- 

2 Cf. Husik, A History of Medieval Jewish Philosophy (New York, 
1916) ; Renan, Averroes et VAverroisme (Paris. 18S2) ; Mandonnet, 
Siger de Brabant et VAverroisme latin au XHIe siecle (Louvain. 
1911) ; Ch. V. Langlois, Siger de Brabant in questions de Vhistoire et 
Venseignement, Premiere Serie (1902). 

306 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

uality in a future state and reduces Providence to a very 
vague purposiveness. It is truly careful to differentiate 
between faith and reason, but that is done in order to 
contrast the one with the other, and to agree that upon 
one and the same point it is possible to come to a con- 
clusion of one purport for faith, and another for reason. 
It is evident that such conflicts leave faith in a very 
unfavorable position. These theses secure partisans in 
the Schools, more or less determined and earnest, but in 
any case very numerous, who throughout the entire thir- 
teenth century stir up therein a series of "affairs" which 
cause the ecclesiastical authorities a great deal of trouble. 
They exert considerable influence, too, in countries which 
are in touch with the Arabs, like Spain and Italy. 
Boccaccio's famous tale of the Three Rings is very char- 
acteristic from this point of view, and no less so is the 
anger of Petrarch, who attributed to Averroism the reli- 
gious indifferentism which he found to be the fashion in 
the Venetian Republic. 

Some of the thinkers, infected with this modernism, 
proclaim even in the Schools of Paris or Oxford that 
philosophy ought to be independent of theology, and in 
any case Christian faith is an obstacle to the progress of 
knowledge. And while the Archbishop of Paris, Etienne 
Tempier, condemns 919 Averroist errors in 1277, and the 
Archbishop of Canterbury and the University of Oxford 
do the same, a kind of crusade is in process of organiza- 
tion among orthodox graduate doctors against the fresh 
spirit of unbelief which is filtering down from the Schools 
to the lower classes in the form of a gross materialism, 
to such a degree that the Inquisition will be forced to take 
note of it (at Carcassonne and at Pamiers, for instance) 
in the beginning of the fourteenth century. 

Nevertheless, this intellectual crusade does not succeed 
as a corrective any better than did the others. Some of 
the doctors, like the famous Raymond Lully (1235-13 15 )', 
even let themselves be infected by the heresies they are 
endeavoring to overthrow. Not one of them finds any deci- 
sive arguments against Averroism, and at last it sue- 


ceeds in hoisting itself upon the tolerance of the Church, 
otherwise inconceivable except obtained either by shut- 
ting itself off in small coteries (like those at Padua and 
Bologna, for instance), or else by veiling with what 
appear to be reassuring statements a syncretism of a 
somewhat surprising character. We can discern in it a 
combination of the theories of the Arabian philosopher, 
the main postulates of orthodox dogmatism, and ram- 
blings concerning the relations existing between astral 
influences and human destiny. 


The period of transition from a philosophy opposed 
to the Church to a true science with the same tendency 
is thus marked by a reappearance of astrology and the 
occult sciences: magic together with its empiric form, 
sorcery. For magic is a venture which aims at dominat- 
ing and coaching nature, through a pretended acquaint- 
ance with its secret springs and the ways to touch 
them off. 

Moreover that is a lamentable chapter of Church his- 
tory which traces its struggle with the occult sciences. 8 
It will not be related nor even an epitome given of it 
here. Only enough of it will be recalled to illustrate the 
point at issue, namely, that however appearances indicate 
its domination to be complete, clerical power during the 
Middle Ages was surrounded by all kinds of adversaries. 
The belief in the reality of occult science, in the value of 
astrology, in the power of sorcery, was a bequest from 
antiquity ; its adepts were to be found in all the nations ; 
folklore helped keep it up with its innumerable legends 
and it seemed to be confirmed by a mass of those hearsay 
experiences which strengthen in the simpler-minded and 
the illiterate a dogmatic faith in the absurd. Note has 
already been taken several times that the conquest of the 
Western world by Christianity had not destroyed these 

* De Cauzons, La magie et la sorcellerie en France (Paris), Vols. I 
and II ; Lea, op. cit., Vol. Ill, Chaps, vi and vii ; Frangais, VEglise et 
la sorcellerie (Paris, 1910). the first three chapters. 

308 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

older heterogeneous layers of varied superstitions. In 
this case, it became for the most part transformed in the 
process of adapting itself to the Christian faith. Clearly 
astrology, which was an attempt to derive knowledge of 
the future from the relative position of the astral bodies 
which were reputed to exercise sovereign influence upon 
human destiny, remained apart, although even it 
could be tied up with divine truth, by considering that 
God had created the firmament. And as a matter of fact 
many highly placed Church dignitaries — Cardinal Pierre 
d'Ailly at the close of the fourteenth century was one — 
did not consider themselves wanting in orthodoxy for 
commending and practicing what was then known as 
" judicial astronomy." It was a very different matter 
with regard to magic because in so far as it could be 
linked up with the Christian religion, it made a pretense 
of obliging the Devil to act in person, sometimes by con- 
straint, but more often by agreement. 

In the Middle Ages the Church for a long period had 
no hard and fast doctrine respecting magic and sorcery ; 
and strangely enough neither Jewish nor Roman tradi- 
tion, so inexorable with regard to the treatment of sor- 
cerers and magicians, settled this point in the very begin- 
ning. Sometimes the ecclesiastical authorities treated the 
practices of the magicians as mere foolishness ; sometimes 
they condemned them as survivals of pagan superstitions. 
Again, they seemed to take them seriously, as did the 
laity at that period generally, but even so they did no 
more than to pass the ordinary ecclesiastical censures 
upon their adherents. Toward the end of the twelfth 
century the magicians appear to be wholly disregarded 
by them. This was a very wise attitude, for the right 
policy for the Church to adopt was a policy of enlighten- 
ing the ignorant and the foolish, divided between confi- 
dence and dread with respect to magic and sorcery, who 
demanded that sorcerers and magicians should be brought 
to the stake. 

Exactly the opposite attitude, however, was shown in 
the beginning of the thirteenth century by the Church, 


for she began, with the Inquisition, to settle down into the 
blindest acceptance of hearsay and allowed herself to 
consent to, and then to encourage, terrible measures of 
repression which increased the evil instead of curing it. 
It is a fact nevertheless that even in the fourteenth cen- 
tury sensible men are still in the majority in ecclesiasti- 
cal assemblies (such as the Synod of Treves in 1310 or 
the Council of Prague in 1349) and that they there deny 
that these dread works of devilry are real occurrences, 
describing them rightly as tittle tattle or delusions. These 
wholesome displays of right reason become rarer and 
ever feebler, in proportion as the confessions wrung from 
the unhappy prisoners by their torturers become more 
direct and horrifying, and as the supreme authority, the 
Papacy, frees its stand in the matter from ambiguity. 
In the fourteenth century John XXII, and Innocent VIII 
in the fifteenth, exhibit a credulity with regard to the 
black arts and a consequent ferocity which definitely set 
the attitude of the Church. For some time, moreover, 
scholars had been contributing to the popular chorus, and 
St. Thomas himself has taken the trouble to dissect, and 
permanently solve, the interesting question of the incubi 
and the succubae. 

From 1320 onward, in accordance with a decision 
made by John XXII, the Inquisition, apart from a brief 
suspension of its powers in the matter from 1330 to 1374, 
has power to judge magic and witchcraft, and to their 
detection and punishment applies its infallible methods 
and its deadly zeal. Certain of its members even acquire 
special renown in this domain which still endures. One 
of these was the Dominican Sprenger, who carried on his 
work in Germany in the last quarter of the fifteenth cen- 
tury, and whose Malleus maleficarum, which appeared 
in Cologne in 1489, has remained the perfect inquisitor's 
manual of theory and practice with respect to enchant- 
ment and witchcraft.* Sprenger 's renown is evenly 
matched in the annals of the Inquisition in Germany by 

4 Ifc has often been reprinted, and up to his death Sprenger added to, 
and developed it. The best edition, that of Lyons (1669), is in four 
quarto volumes. 

310 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

that of the dread Conrad of Marburg (d. 1233), who was 
so furiously hostile to the Catharists, Waldenses and 
other heretical sects. Moreover, as "administered" by 
the Inquisition, magic becomes a heresy, and the most 
formidable of all, affirms Sprenger, since it is nothing 
less than a substitution of the worship of the Devil for 
the worship of God. Conrad of Marburg had already, he 
declared, detected this aberration in a sect more or less 
connected with the Brethren of the Free Spirit, desig- 
nated Luciferians by him, who were corrupting Germany 
in his day. 

It is much more certain that the authority of the 
Church has deeply implanted in the credulous public and 
in the poor brains of the deranged this lamentable aber- 
ration of witchcraft. No better example can be cited to 
prove the extent to which the Church has failed to pre- 
vail with her infallible verities over the prejudices and 
errors of all the ages, but has on the contrary submitted 
to them and at times systematized and justified them. 
In the present instance her progress became a retrogres- 
sion, since she had begun by creating a dogma declaring 
the unreality of sorcerers ' magic, and ends by regarding 
this pseudo-science as a heresy, that is to say, giving it a 
standing in court. 

The shameful sore will go on spreading incessantly, 
particularly in the sixteenth century, and a prolonged 
effort of reflection, experiment, and sound science will be 
necessary to cure it, even partially. 6 The evils of all 
kinds and especially the horrible sufferings of miserable 
human beings for which the Church is responsible in this 
way cannot easily be exaggerated. It is only fair, how- 
ever, to note that in thus broadcasting them to the winds 
she scarcely did more than acquiesce in the almost 

6 Even today the belief in sorcerers obtains in many Christian coun- 
tries and as the Church has not repudiated her medieval doctrine upon 
this subject, it is not rare to encounter fairly well-educated Catholics 
who take them literally. I even know some who do. Moreover, the 
astonishing fabrication will not be forgotten lately circulated (1S95-7) 
by Leo Taxil, exploiting the faith in- Satanism current in certain 
eminently "distinguished" Catholic circles; its success surpassed all 
his hopes. 


unanimous demands of the contemporaries of her victims. 
Only in the eyes of the historian of the present day does 
she appear in taking this course to be the great obstruc- 
tive force to the rise of research and experiment whence 
true science is to issue. 

It must be clearly understood that I do not in any way 
confuse magic with science any more than I regard the 
spagyric art as chemistry, or identify astrology with 
astronomy. I do mean that in all the "occult sciences," 
actually if not intentionally, some small use was made of 
the spirit of observation and experiment, varying in 
different cases. This spirit, wrongly applied as it was 
at the start, gradually recovers itself and travels on its 
way toward science. Strikingly true, it is plain, with 
respect to alchemy and astrology, this observation is not 
wholly out of place even in the case of magic. Thus in 
one of its aspects — even, if you will, the least apparent if 
not the least important of them — the Church by its 
obstinate persecution of magic and witchcraft has already 
begun to struggle against science. 


Scarcely anything in the way of science, properly 
speaking, is carried on in the Middle Ages, as far as we 
can perceive, for these men are seeking chiefly to assim- 
ilate, sometimes very awkwardly, what the ancients knew, 
or thought they knew. It is very probable that not much 
more attention was given to science than that we do per- 
ceive. 6 However, when Aristotle's writings concerning 
physics and natural history began to be circulated, it 
was scarcely possible that some slight taste for experi- 

a Cf. Duhem, Etudes sur Leonard de Vinci: ceux qu'il a lus (Paris, 
1906) ; Ch. V. Langlois, La connaissance de la nature et du monde au 
Moyen Age (Paris, 1911), a study of a certain number of works on 
popular science of great repute in the Middle Ages; the absurdities 
they contain are disconcerting. Ch. H. Haskins, Studies in the His- 
tory of Medieval Science (Harvard, 1924) ; F. Sartiaux, Foi et science 
au Moyen Age (Paris, 1926), with a useful bibliography. It is necessary 
to differentiate the periods, for interesting attempts at scientific 
research are more numerous as we get nearer to the Renascence, i.e. in 
the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. 

312 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

mental knowledge and some degree of knack in observa- 
tion should not be revived. Undoubtedly the Schools by 
no means inclined to dwell upon this part of the work of 
the Stagyrite, which contained so great a danger for 
them. If they did give it considerations they were more 
likely to be seeking there the last word in human knowl- 
edge rather than a means of increase in that knowledge. 
There was at least one man, however, an astonishing 
genius, for whom Aristotle proved to be the master of a 
revival in science. With that which the Greek philoso- 
pher taught him as his capital at the start, he pushed on 
vigorously in advance. He was an Oxford Franciscan 
named Roger Bacon (1214-1294), known as "the admir- 
able doctor." Everything was of interest to him: 
theology, philosophy, mathematics, physics, astronomy, 
medicine, and above all chemistry. He does not succeed, 
it is true, in disentangling himself in detail from all the 
prejudices of his age ; for instance, he continues to believe 
in the reality of the philosopher's stone and in the pos- 
sibility of casting horoscopes. In his truly scientific 
research work, however, he displays a very matter of fact 
spirit and does not decide issues except by experiment, or 
for good sound reasons. Wherever he appears to accept 
current opinions, it is because he has not had time to sift 
the matter for himself; for example, he has never sought 
for the philosopher's stone, nor practiced judicial 
astrology. Instinctively and almost involuntarily, yet 
inevitably, he is a living contradiction of the entire 
ecclesiastical thought of the thirteenth century. Its hair- 
splitting dialectic, its verbal dexterities, its purely meta- 
physical theorizing, its superstitious admiration for the 
past and its blind respect for tradition are all repugnant 
to his mind. While in all things he demands facts and 
preciseness, yet impulses toward mysticism, surprising 
to us, which at first sight gainsay his positivism, are not 
unknown to him. The mind of this singular being was 
many-sided. It is said that on his deathbed he confessed 
sadly that he was sorry he had taken so much trouble to 
break down ignorance. Legendary probably, yet it 


expresses a great truth, for Bacon went beyond his age, 
and his efforts were wasted as far as it was concerned. 
We cannot be certain that he was as rigorously perse- 
cuted as is often stated, or even that he passed a great 
part of his life in prison ; but it is true that his superiors 
were upset over his researches, and by applying the most 
stringent rules of the order to him they literally reduced 
him to silence. He was a pioneer, both because he opened 
up the path of science, so long closed for traffic, once 
more and was also the first to experience the opposition 
that the Church will offer to the advance of positive 
knowledge concerning the world and life. 7 

Nevertheless, throughout the length of the Middle Ages 
men are to be found who were able to break away from 
the mastery of orthodox assertions and develop their 
thought freely, but though the Church could not prevent 
them from thinking, it never allowed them to propagate 
their opinions at their own pleasure. Frequently it is 
only because these men were condemned by the Church 
that we know anything about them. As long as they con- 
cerned themselves with purely theoretical matters, 
beyond realization in practices at variance with the sense 
of the Church, and confined themselves to a very limited 
audience only, choosing, it was well understood, their 
language also very carefully, they managed to secure for 
themselves much more toleration than we should at first 
be inclined to believe. "Were search made it would not be 
difficult to find in the writings of more than one leader 
of Scholasticism, such as Richard of St. Victor or Peter 
Lombard himself, a freedom of investigation and thought 
which all would agree is surprising. The Schools even 
produced a thoroughly independent thinker like the 
matriculant Nicholas of Autricure, who in 1348 dared to 
maintain before the Magistri of the Sorbonne (a) that it 
was essential to reject Aristotle's teaching and try to 
learn direct from nature, (b) that the existence of God 

7 See the bibliography in The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. XIII, p. 11G, 
and in E. Gilson, La philosophic au Mo yen Age, Vol. II, p. 62. See 
also R. Carton, L' experience physique, I 'experience mystique, la syn- 
thise doctrinale de Roger Bacon (Paris, 1926). 

314 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

could not be proved, and (c) that the universe is both 
infinite and eternal. However, as a general rule, those 
who ventured beyond the limits indicated above did not go 
far nor maintain their course for a long time ; the ecclesi- 
astical authorities were on the watch. In the fourteenth 
century a custom grew up in Italy and Germany of requir- 
ing all the books that were published to be approved ; the 
custom spread to France, where the theologians hastened 
to domesticate it long before Francis I made it legally 
obligatory. Henceforward every book on theology, 
philosophy or science not "approved" is, ipso facto, 
under suspicion and liable to be condemned. In this way 
free thought, already so little furthered by the milieu in 
which it was developing, sporadic and isolated at best, 
became deprived of all means of circulation. It is 
reduced to a secret propaganda, necessarily very 
restricted and still more risky; it can acquire no public 
influence. It is nevertheless interesting for our purposes 
to note the fact that it does exist, even in a definitely 
rationalistic form, which is of all things the rarest, and 
that it eludes the attention of the Church in enough 
instances to escape blotting out altogether. 8 


At the beginning of the period we are considering, the 
Church had at her command for use in overcoming any 
resistance she encountered, canonical penalties. Of 
these excommunication especially was very formidable, 
but likely to have its effect weakened if invoked too 
freely. Henceforward in very serious cases the ecclesias- 
tical authorities might appeal to the secular power for 
aid. St. Augustine had clearly indicated its duty to assist 
and moreover usually it did not wait to be called upon 
for intervention. A transgressor against religious order 
would find it very difficult not to be at the time an offender 
also against civil order, so that in one sense the eradica- 
tion of a heresy could readily pass as a case for the police 

6 Biographical references in Sartiaux, op. cit., p. 83 et seg. 


or a measure of social security. It would be an error to 
believe that the most violent intolerance of the Middle 
Ages was exclusively the work of the clergy. On the 
contrary, it is usual for the laity to exhibit a much more 
bitter spirit than their pastors in demanding the chas- 
tisement of those who by offending God compromise the 
interests of the whole community. As a rule the Pope 
himself remains indulgent with regard to avowed here- 
tics much longer than the local clergy, who are urged to 
show more vigor by their parishioners. It is so, at any 
rate, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, for during 
that period Rome is more afraid of the simoniac, that is, 
the laic whose intention it is to dominate the Church by 
trafficking in ecclesiastical preferments, than of the here- 
tic, who is still as a rule an isolated individual. 

A change of attitude takes place when heresies have to 
be dealt with in the form of sects with more or less 
numerous members, and concurrently ecclesiastical legis- 
lation against heretics is finished off, and methods of 
repressing them organized. It becomes clear soon 
enough (particularly when face to face with the Catharist 
danger) that the action of the bishops, even under the 
guidance of the Pope and his stimulus, is too spasmodic, 
variable and loose; the business in hand requires a 
method of procedure at once more uniform, prompt, and 
general — and one that is specialized also — to make certain 
that the heretic will be run down, which is sometimes a 
difficult matter. Then too his regular and persistent 
chastisement needs to be separated from the pernicious 
influences engendered by the excessive zeal of certain 
prelates and the impatience of the populace. And it is in 
response to these needs, perceived previously by Innocent 
III, that the Inquisition is instituted. 

Like most medieval organizations, a decree did not give 
birth to it but a practice, first of all restricted, and then 
by slow degrees extended and perfected. From the year 
1227 Pope Gregory IX acquired a habit of handing the 
Dominicans a mandate to make inquiries about heretics 
in any diocese which was specially infected. As these 

316 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

temporary commissions yielded fruitful results, the Pope 
added to their number in the course of the thirteenth 
century, despite the opposition of the bishops, who very 
much disliked the new limits thus set to their own author- 
ity. It was on the initiative of Innocent IV (Bull Ad 
extirpanda in 1252) that the organization of the "Holy 
Office" was systematized, and perfected by a series of 
papal decisions. The Inquisition in the end became a 
kind of regulated administration of ecclesiastical justice 
with regard to heresy; its commissions were divided up 
into provinces, corresponding with those of the Mendi- 
cant Friars, who were usually pressed into its service. 

The Inquisition was equipped with a completely secret 
course of procedure against the accused and it used the 
forcible means employed at that time by criminal tri- 
bunals for the purpose of extorting confession from those 
who came within their jurisdiction. Pronouncing, 
secretly and without right of appeal, the most terrible 
penalties, it constitutes one of the most horrible inven- 
tions ever conceived by fanaticism in any age. But it is 
self-evident that if we are to be just we must not judge 
it by the standards of today. That it responds to the 
spirit of the times in which it had its origin, and that it 
would not have been tolerated long if it had not done so, 
is indisputable. While the men of the thirteenth and 
fourteenth centuries reproached the Holy Office with 
errors and excesses, they did not usually take exception 
to its principle of action or condemn its intention. 9 

It is certain that the Inquisition reduced the numbers 
of the heretics, not only by its autos-da-fe and imprison- 
ments, and the conversions induced by its powers of in- 
timidation, but still more, and even superlatively, by the 
burden laid upon the wrong-thinking to hide themselves 
and curtail their propaganda. It seems less certain that 
it helped the cause of true religion. It demanded scarcely 

9 Certain Inquisitors, however, aroused such fierce hatred that it 
went as far as assassination. Thus the too famous Conrad of Mar- 
burg, Gregory IX's confidential agent in Germany, was killed by an 
ambush in 1233. For the Inquisitorial procedure, cf. Lea's Vol. I. chs. 
ix-xiv ; De Cauzons L'Histoire de V Inquisition en France, Vol. II. 


more than the appearance of orthodoxy, a passive obedi- 
ence to the Church. On the other hand, it exhibited 
indifference where the vices and abuses concerned were 
specifically ecclesiastical. It appears therefore to be an 
instrument of material force, and by no means an organ 
of spiritual regeneration. It is the most brutal and, in 
one sense, the most characteristic expression of 
the despotism of the Church. From still another 
point of view, it specially contributed to the consolidation 
of the papal system. I mean that by its aid the influ- 
ence of the Pontiff penetrated everywhere, obedience to 
his orders was enforced and he became accepted as a 
unique source of Justice, Law and Doctrine. 


The religious society of the Middle Ages cannot there- 
fore be compared to a calm and mighty river flowing 
slowly between well-formed banks. Eather is it a torrent 
in which stagnant pools and tumultuous rapids alternate, 
barely restrained by constantly crumbling embankments. 
Let us be careful not to exaggerate, however. Dan- 
gerous as they may sometimes appear, the outbreaks of 
the passing flood never prove unmanageable, nor are the 
ravages they 1 cause beyond repair. Metaphor aside, let 
us put it that the heretical agitations and other forms of 
opposition that disturb the Church do not as a rule really 
take hold of the masses who, owing to the hypnotizing 
effect of habit, as well as to their ignorance, remain 
under the domination of their clergy. The people, it is 
clear, often show little respect for their priests, even at 
the height of the Middle Ages. They feel free to jeer at 
them inordinately, and habitually joke about their 
vices. On many occasions, too, the people behave in 
church with a familiarity, a lack of ceremony which 
shock us and might raise doubts whether they regard 
it as " the house of God. ' ' These deviations simply prove 
the crude spontaneity of the impressions which they 
form, their lack of reflection and the grossness of their 

318 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

manners, and do not in any way authorize us to question 
the depth and sincerity of their religious sentiments any 
more than of their intention to remain orthodox. Upon 
occasion they are no less zealous than their priests in 
demanding the pursuit and punishment of heretics, and 
sometimes even go beyond them. 

Under these circumstances, it seems as if a little good- 
will and energy on the part of the ecclesiastical authori- 
ties applied opportunely in amending the most offensive 
of their own defects, should have sufficed to avert the 
most troublesome complications which the near future 
had in reserve for them. Anti-clericalism must not be 
confused with irreligion, and heresy does not proceed 
from scepticism; but the Church ought to have main- 
tained close contact with her faithful devotees among 
the ordinary folk, in whom the true sources of a living 
faith are to be found. She ought not to have let her 
official doctrine be confined and cramped in formulas 
that were too abstract and too unyielding. Finally, her 
organization should have preserved some elasticity, and 
not have become set hard and fast in a uniformity 
incapable of adapting itself readily to the varying needs 
of the men of different nationalities who constitute the 
Christian body. Just the contrary, however, occurred. 
Clerical isolation became more and more pronounced; 
the collaboration of the faithful in the constitution and 
mise au point of the faith completely ceased, and theol- 
ogy, as a consequence, has become more and more inac- 
cessible to them. Acceptance of this theology has been 
imposed upon them inexorably without the possibility of 
discussion and under the most severe constraints, which 
leads readily to purely automatic worship, absolutely 
devoid of any understanding of doctrine. Lastly, the 
pontifical monarchy has tended ever more and more 
toward narrow centralization, pretensions without limits 
and an autocracy beyond control. 



Toward the middle of the Medieval Age a new theory 
of the Church is in a fair way to being formed. It will 
alter at every point the theory current in antiquity, which 
also is still in force, perhaps not exclusively, yet hold- 
ing good, in St. Augustine's thought. I refer to the 
theory which demies the Church as "the community of 
the faithful," the entire body of Christians. Hencefor- 
ward a tendency to consider the visible clerical hierarchy 
as "the Church" becomes well defined. I do not mean to 
say that this tendency is absolutely an innovation, or that 
it is impossible to detect its beginnings in remote Patris- 
tic literature. Nor do I wish to maintain that it is not a 
logical outcome of ecclesiastical development nor that the 
distinction when drawn between the lesser laity and the 
more privileged clergy, and then their separation in the 
rites of worship, must not naturally lead to the absorp- 
tion of the one by the other in the working life of Chris- 
tianity. I merely remark that by the very fact that the 
Pope claims a sort of deification for himself and makes 
it known, which extends by reflection from him to all his 
clergy, a stupendous impulse is given to the principle of 
the exaltation of the cleric above the laic. The earlier 
idea of the Church loses in this way practically all its 
worth and its significance. A protest in the name of the 
older tradition, and one which is justified, is contained in 
the words of Philippe le Bel to Boniface VIII: "Our 
Holy Mother the Church, the Bride of Christ, is com- 
posed not only of clergy but also of laity." It amounts 

1 Bibliography in Ficker and Hermelink, Das Mittclalter, §§ 14-37. 


320 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

to saying that the laity have their rights in the Church, 
rights differing in degree, possibly, yet of the same order 
as those of the clergy. Too much forgetfulness of this 
principle threw the Catholic Church into an abyss of 

Let us note that this clerical conception of the Church 
is peculiarly furthered by the theory of the two swords, 
reference to which has already been made, notwithstand- 
ing that it is mainly political in its significance, having 
been formulated by the pontifical jurists to justify the 
papal claim, in the first place to be independent of the 
Emperor, and later to dominate him. Inasmuch as the 
sword spiritual has the advantage over the sword tem- 
poral, the ordo clericalis appears superior in the Chris- 
tian world to the unregulated troop of the laics. It 
attains its standing through the dignity of its office, the 
power of the divine privileges which proceed from it, and 
through a sort of rapprochement with God which is 
the most precious of them all. 

This honorary primacy of the clergy is not theoret- 
ically contested by the laity, even when in practice they 
are energetically opposing clerical interference in the 
temporal matters of government and the politics of the 
men of their flocks. From this fundamental concession 
on the part of the laity the Church reaps several 
important privileges. 

First of all, it is evidently a point of capital impor- 
tance to be recognized as first in the social scheme, in the 
capacity of the guide that mankind need to lead them 
into the way of salvation, which is the most important 
business of life. When St. Bernard proclaims 2 that of 
the two swords, the first should be borne by the Church 
and the second for her, there is none to contradict him, 
for the Church sets the norm in religion, to which it is 
universally admitted that the whole social life must sub- 
ordinate itself, just as the kings of the earth owe the 
Vicar of Christ the most profound respect ; they kiss his 
foot and hold the stirrup when he desires to mount. It 

2 Ep. 256 (Patrol, lat. t. CLXXXII, col. 464). 


might then be said, in a certain sense, that in this medi- 
eval society where the most fearful inequalities are the 
rule, the Church affirms — in her own interest to be sure, 
but at any rate she does affirm — the idea of equality in 
God as an essential principle. This means an equality 
natural to all men, shown by their equal deference to the 
representatives of God. Moreover, this basis of equality 
is respected by the Church within her own borders. The 
ecclesiastical career — and it alone in those days — is open 
top to bottom to men of any status or rank equally. A 
priest drawn from the lowest order of society may, if he 
have the merit and good fortune, attain the very summit 
of the sacred hierarchy; thus Gregory VII was the son 
of a carpenter, Benedict XII of a baker ; Sixtus IV came 
from a plowman's family; Urban IV and John XXII 
were the sons of cobblers. 

From another point of view the observation may with 
equal truth be made that this empire of the Church over 
feudal society constitutes the most complete triumph of 
spirit over force known to history, except that for the 
men of that age it was actually the exaltation of a force, 
recognized by them as more effective and better vouched 
for than any other. 

In the eyes of these men who remain usually, even in 
the midst of their wildest excesses, attached with their 
whole souls to their religious faith, it is, in fact, a truly 
terrifying force that gives the priest the power to accom- 
plish the miracle of transubstantiation, or to absolve from 
all sin. Before men of the Middle Ages can bring them- 
selves momentarily to defy and outrage this force in 
appearance or, as too often happens in the case of the 
feudal barons, attempt to injure it in the person or the 
possessions of its clergy, overwhelming impulses of 
cupidity or anger or a sort of frenzy of brutishness must 
visit them and render them for the time being beside 
themselves. It is but rarely that they do not return pre- 
pared to implore pardon, to accept heavy penances, and 
by an abundance of good works to earn oblivion for their 
bad conduct. 

322 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

Most frequently the secular authorities overwhelm the 
Church with gifts, privileges and exemptions, as if the 
divine office of which she is custodian excuses her from 
any of the burdens of social life, and also because they 
hold that God keeps an exact account in heaven of the 
benefits received by his servants here below. To tell the 
truth, the Church does not fare so well where a ruler 
behaves properly during his earthly course. The heavier 
his offenses against morality and justice, the more chance 
of finding, in his will, profits for herself from his repent- 
ance: the foundation of monasteries, sums bequeathed 
to the great wonder-working sanctuaries, favors of all 
kinds prodigally bestowed on those through whose efforts 
the gates of hell are closed and the doors of paradise 

That these grants and concessions may run to an excess 
accountable for only by the fear of the hereafter which 
frequently proves embarrassing to the exercise of tem- 
poral government is incontestable, as the wisest among 
the rulers are well aware. This excess alone it is that 
troubles them at times, for they do not contest the 
Church's right to live in the world in an environment of 
respect and an atmosphere of privilege. It is a very 
curious thing that though people in the Middle Ages fre- 
quently complain of their clergy, it is but rarely that 
these complaints go beyond the men involved and attack 
the ecclesiastical institutions themselves. They wax 
indignant over bad priests who abuse their privileges; 
they detest or they jeer at evil monks who debase their 
calling; but they do not deny these rights to be legiti- 
mate, or the calling sacred. They demand that the clerics 
shall live more worthily and attend more strictly to the 
duties of their office ; they make no complaint — quite the 
contrary, in fact — of the office itself. And it is by no 
means rare to find appended to their criticisms the 
remark that all clerics might well follow the example 
given by some of them in behaving as they ought. 

In the course of the Middle Ages, therefore, a kind of 
immense clerical net gradually spreads over the whole of 


Christendom and enwraps it entirely ; this state of things 
reaches its perfection in the time of Innocent III. 3 
Reckoning from this moment, in fact, the lay mind, which 
has already put in an appearance in the government of 
Philippe-Auguste, and is more distinctly in evidence in 
that of Philippe-le-Bel, begins a slow course of self- 
assertion which will scarcely experience interruption, and 
will take on ampler dimensions from age to age. In the 
meantime, the Church retains the first place everywhere 
in the life of the state and in that of the individual, or 
in any act whatsoever involving the conscience; this 
means that she has at command an unlimited power of 
intervention wherever she may consider its use desirable. 
Moreover, the most insignificant of clerics is in law 
inviolable in respect to his person and belongings. Even 
the commission of a crime would not suffice to deliver 
him to the secular judges, and in return all the laics for 
offenses against the Church or the faith resort to the 
ecclesiastical judges. The power of the rulers sometimes 
sets these privileges at naught, it is true, but the right 
exists all the same and, as a rule, any infringement of it 
finally ends in the payment of reparation profitable to 
the Church. Let us add that the rule of celibacy, firmly 
rooted in the Church by Gregory VII, perilous to morality 
and to good sense as it is often considered, and poorly 
observed as it still is, tends just as much as the other 
features mentioned to raise the cleric to some extent to a 
status above ordinary human nature, to convince the 
laity and to convince him himself that the sacrament 
received by him on his ordination day made an excep- 
tional being of him. Beneath his apparent humility — 
when he remembers that he ought to appear humble — he 
is filled with pride, which often expresses itself in words 
that have little of the Gospel ring about them. "The 
least among the priests," writes Honorius of Autun in 
the first half of the twelfth century, "is worth more than 
any king. ' ' 

8 He it was who, not content with the already arrogant title of "Vicar 
of Christ," assumed that of "Vicar of God" (Vice Dei). 

324 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 


For the merits of the medieval clergy to have made a 
reasonable approach to their pretensions it would have 
been necessary for their selection and training to be 
objects of constant, studious care. Now in reality 
scarcely any precautions were taken in these matters. 
The clergy of the lower ranks, both priests and monks, 
belong for the most part to the inferior classes, from 
which they do not derive any very great intelligence on 
any subject, not even religion, nor do they acquire from 
them any really priestly habits either. They generally 
remain uneducated, up to the time when the custom 
begins for clerics to frequent the universities, that is, in 
the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and improve- 
ment is not clearly perceptible until the fifteenth century. 
Then certain chapters require a stay of some length at 
the university, and require the ordinands to pass a 
slight examination. Formerly some desultory study in 
a conventual or episcopal school i sufficed. Even less 
than this was accepted, however, and more than one 
conciliary decision seems singularly convincing from 
this point of view. A Council of Cologne in 1260 requires 
all the clergy to be able to read and to chant the offices ; 
in 1311 a council at Kavenna limits this obligation to the 
canons only; and a Council of London in 1268 recom- 
mends the archdeacon of every diocese to instruct the 
priests enough for them to understand the canon, i.e. 
order for celebrating the Mass and the ritual of baptism! 

As to the superior clergy of the same period, the selec- 
tion of its members was first of all tainted by simony in 
all its forms, including the most barefaced — the purchase, 
pure and simple, of the episcopal miter or the abbot's 
crozier. It was further vitiated by the aristocratic cus- 
tom of endeavoring to establish the younger sons of great 
families advantageously in Church posts, if there were 

* Such as Le Bee in Normandy ; St. Victor and St. Genevieve in 
Paris ; St. Denis ; Oxford, Cambridge, and St. Alban's in England ; Fulda 
and Utrecht in Germany ; and the Lateran in Rome. 


no certainty of securing a competence for them in a 
worldly career. What room is left for surprise, there- 
fore, over the great array of combative prelates, turbu- 
lent abbots, and other highly placed beneficiaries, worlds 
removed from the proper cares and virtues of their state, 
which history in the eleventh, twelfth, and even thirteenth 
centuries presents to us in such very strange situations? 
Again, there were far too many clerics for some among 
their number not to bring discredit upon them as a body, 
because they took orders only for the enjoyment 
of the various exemptions and privileges thus to be pro- 
cured. "I swear to you," writes a troubadour in the 
fourteenth century, "that soon there will be more clerks 
and priests than cowherds." Truly, even in our own 
times, your everyday citizen, who may not be in the least 
anti-clerical, usually thinks that in France "there are 
quite enough cures and nuns." Possibly this is only a 
more or less indistinct echo of an age when there were 
really very many more. The age of Scholasticism was 
surely such an age. 

And this superabundance is not to the advantage of 
the Church, nor is it edifying to the faithful, firstly 
because the judicial privileges of the Church attract many 
men of doubtful morals whom she finds herself induced 
to shield "as a matter of principle," in cases which do 
her little honor; and secondly because all these clerics 
must live and, apart from the beneficed clergy — provided 
these are satisfied with their regular income — they must 
live on the laity. It is the tithes which secure them their 
ordinary subsistence. But, beyond the fact that these 
tithes are the sources of interminable difficulties between 
pastors and their flocks throughout the Middle Ages, 
they do not suffice to maintain those who collect them. 
The tithe-collecting priest frequently is reduced to the 
status of a fiscal intermediary between the laity and the 
high ecclesiastical dignitaries ; the money merely passes 
in and out of his purse. 

Then their primary needs cause them to turn weak 
when faced with the temptation to traffic in sacred things, 

326 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

to sell the sacraments, especially that of penance. Some 
of them even go as far as to demand a small offering 
before they will administer the communion, which leads a 
contemporary to remark that they are worse than Judas, 
for they sell for one denarius that body for which he 
demanded thirty. Others, more shameless still, exploit 
the terrors of the dying in order to make them bequeath, 
under cover of pious purposes, larger or smaller legacies 
to themselves. It is not unusual to find a shameful dis- 
pute going on around a dead body, between the clergy 
of the parish and the monks of the neighboring monas- 
tery, about that which either party hopes to receive in the 
way of profit from the corpse. 

Too many of these clergy, both higher and lower, are 
clearly too busy about their own affairs to take pains to 
instruct and preach to their flock. They let them slip 
into all kinds of superstitions and devilries from which 
they remain but ill protected, until the time that the influ- 
ence of the "mendicant orders" makes itself felt. The 
thirteenth century witnesses a great advance in whole- 
some discipline in the political sphere, and of well-being 
in the social. Accordingly, it is felt to be necessary that 
the humbler folk should not be left to stagnate in their 
ignorance of the true doctrine. Moreover, from the 
beginning of the century the terrible consequences of the 
negligence of the clergy and the disorder of the Church 
become patent. Grievous perversions of mystical reli- 
gious sentiment, like that which produces the organized 
processions of the Flagellants; menacing, widely circu- 
lated heresies, like those of the Waldenses and the 
Catharists, with their threat of bringing Manicheism back 
against which the secular power must be mobilized, 
have unobtrusively and thoroughly contaminated whole 
regions. For the cure of this disorder confidence can no 
longer possibly be placed in the old orders of monks, 
which had sunk into decay strangely fast. Success and 
wealth have ruined them, and their state of discredit 
seems irremediable to the populace, who readily charge 
all the vices up against them. 


The sources of this phenomenon, surprising as it is at 
first sight, are manifold. Men who live shut up in 
monasteries are not all saints ; as a rule their morals are 
about on the level of those outside, and these are not 
very lofty; their desire for gain and for power, even 
though it be usually impersonal and collective in its 
nature, is none the less intense. A great abbey is a 
center for the exploitation of its humble neighbors just 
as much as a great castle. In the second place, the monks 
strive earnestly to be released from the jurisdiction of 
their bishop and to be taken under that of the Pope. 
Rome does all she can to further this program, because 
she finds it to her advantage to do so, but monastic good 
discipline does not gain thereby, because the pontifical 
surveillance is too remote to be effective. In fact, the 
abbot and his chapter do as they please, which is often 
more in accordance with the spirit of the age than of 
their order. When the scandal resulting becomes too 
offensive, reform is attempted, either by the special zeal 
of a particular abbot or superior of an order, or upon 
the initiative of a papal legate. The monks are now 
forced to observe the rule of their order which has been 
previously revised, that is, made more stringent ; but the 
improvement is only temporary, because the causes of 
corruption still persist. With respect to the regrettable 
opinion that humble Christians so often hold of the 
monks, full weight must needs be given to the ofttimes 
doubtful behavior of the wandering friars — the plague 
of the older monachism — who are still numerous in the 
beginning of the fourteenth century. Boniface VIII 
opposes them vigorously. 

At the same time terrible prophecies are in circulation, 
which announce chastisement approaching for the cor- 
ruption of the Church and the advent of the Church 
"Spiritual," the only one worthy of Christ. The official 
authorities again resort to violent measures in self- 
defense, but they do not feel certain of victory. 

Then two men come to the front. One of them is the 
Italian, St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) j the other the 

328 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

Spaniard, St. Dominic (1170-1221) ; and on their initia- 
tive arise two orders, both destined to furnish popular 
preachers, and the second in particular (the Dominican 
order) to restore heretics to the faith. In the final 
accounts, however, the influence of both again turned 
out to the advantage of the Pope. Francis of Assisi did 
not desire to found a monastic order. He aimed higher, 
and proclaimed that he would bring the faithful back to 
the evangelical life whilst the clergy would resume the 
practice of the apostolic life. An admirable Utopian 
conception it was, but also a very dangerous one, 
for it amounted to nothing less than the demand for a 
veritable social revolution. The Roman authorities 
proved able to neutralize the influence of the saint who 
was obliged nolens volens to confine the great reform 
he had dreamed of for the whole body of Christians to 
the monks. Both Franciscans and Dominicans, however, 
rendered good service. Well instructed in sound doctrine 
in their monasteries, they went forth to spread it among 
the masses ; but even more industriously, they promptly 
became, like the Clunisians of former days, active work- 
ers for the pontifical power, and prepared the way for 
the proud claims put into circulation by Boniface VIII 
at the end of the thirteenth century. They soon did 
worse, for they allowed themselves to be enticed by the 
Schools, and their most learned men became immersed in 
them: St. Thomas Aquinas was a Dominican and Duns 
Scotus a Franciscan. 

In serving the Pope, however, they were not 
always of direct assistance to the clergy of the dioceses 
in which they traveled about, and as much can be said of 
the two other orders which Rome also recognized as 
Mendicant Friars B — the Carmelites (1226) and the 
Augustinians (1256). They organized "missions," as 

6 This character is a privilege strictly limited to the four orders just 
mentioned ; though in spite of the active opposition of the ecclesiastical 
authorities, it is not unusual to find even after the Lyons council of 
1274, of which canon 22 sanctions the privilege, more or less important 
associations formed among people desirous of living the life of Mendi- 
cants. It was a characteristic form of monkish piety in those days. 


they are still called today, and these naturally attracted 
crowds, for they brought both diversion and comfort to 
men who were not usually indulged with either. They 
preached and they used to hear confessions. Many sins 
that the guilty frequently hesitated to confess to their 
parish priest were acknowledged to these visitors who 
gave absolution readily, whenever the parish dealt gen- 
erously by them. Then they went on their way, leaving 
the parochial clergy in an embarrassing position, com- 
pletely discomfited by this showy competition which the 
Pope was favoring. The parish priests did not accept 
this loss of prestige with a good heart; they complained; 
the bishops protested. Even the University of Paris had 
a word to say on the matter in the thirteenth century, 
and threw some light upon the disadvantages of 
the ''remedy" applied by the Mendicant Friars. 
The main result of all this commotion was to convince 
the Pope and the friars of the excellence for themselves 
of a system so bitterly opposed and, in very truth, so 
disastrous to the clergy of the dioceses. 


From that time onward it becomes clear that if the 
ordo clericalis has confiscated the very conception of the 
Church to its own advantage, the Pope has succeeded in 
turn in getting himself accepted, not only as the head and 
origin of this ordo, which would in itself have been a 
great achievement, but even as its sum total personified. 
It is from his person, his own authortiy, his special 
prestige, that he presumes to derive the exercise of all 
ecclesiastical authority, as far as its origin, administra- 
tion and aims are concerned. Little by little the Church 
bends and yields to this limitless pretension, which is 
reducing her to a state of servitude. 

Innocent III lays down the rule that the Pope alone 
possesses ecclesiastical power in all its plenitude; the 
bishops are nothing else than his aids in whatever part 
of Church administration he may confide to their care. 

330 Ancient,. Medieval and Modern Christianity 

"When the expression " oecumenical bishop," which means 
" universal," thus takes on its full significance, the bish- 
ops, whom ancient and authentic Church tradition made 
the equals (pares) and the brothers in Jesus Christ of 
the Roman patriarch, find themselves reduced, in theory 
as well as in fact, to nothing more than his deputies. 
Papal legates, in all cases of importance, step in and sub- 
stitute their authority for that of the bishop, even in his 
own diocese. The Pope interferes in the election of bish- 
ops with increasing frequency even when they are uncon- 
tested, and Nicholas III (d. 1280) positively asserts that 
the Pontiff possesses the right of confirmation over all 
the bishops. This amounts to taking the stand that no one 
can be a bishop without the approval of the Holy See, 
that a regular election does not constitute a sufficient title. 
Since the fifth century the Pope had been in the habit of 
establishing a special bond between himself and certain 
bishops by the presentation to them of the pallium. 9 
The "False Decretals" make the gift of this adornment 
the essential sign of investiture for the performance of 
the function of metropolitan, so that Innocent III in con- 
sequence suspends the exercise of authority by arch- 
bishops until they have received it. Again from the time 
of Gregory II, the recipient had to take an oath of 
vassalage to the Pope. 

In addition, in the course of the twelfth and thirteenth 
centuries, the Pope stretches the practice of pontifical 
reserves as far as he can. That is to say, he reserves 
to himself the right of appointment directly to an 
increasing number of benefices throughout Christen- 
dom, and not only the right to receive and act on all 
ecclesiastical cases of appeal, but also the right of sum- 
mons in all cases which affect the Church or religion. 
Combine these with the factors mentioned above and the 
theory of the extent of his power and the bearing of the 

The present form of the pallium, settled upon in the tenth century, 
is a white woollen band about nine inches wide, adorned with four small 
black crosses. It is worn on the shoulders in the fashion of a collar, 
and bears a pendant both back and front, fashioned in the same way. 
(Cf. J. Baudot, Le Pallium (Paris, 1909). 


realization which he gives it in practice will be well under- 
stood. The bishops who experienced the consequences of 
his encroachments seem to be resigned to them; the ser- 
vile submissiveness shown by the episcopate nominated 
under the regime of Infallibility, since 1870, for which 
they are often upbraided, does not date from our 
own times. It is astonishing to note, in contrast with 
their high privileges in the kingdom, the insignificant 
affairs to which the initiative of the French prelates of 
the thirteenth century, for instance, was limited, as 
shown in their requests to the Pope for specific powers 
and particular instructions. 

This style of abdication on the part of the bishops is 
one of the main factors in the achievement of the ponti- 
fical absolutism. It was due to two principal causes. In 
the first place, the higher clergy, like the Pope himself, 
and even more than he, are spendthrifts. Everything 
serves them as a pretext for extortions — the justice ren- 
dered, the dispensations granted, the imposing monu- 
ments undertaken, both interminable in building and 
ruinous in cost. Our cathedrals are often vaunted as 
imperishable witnesses to the faith of their builders. No 
less are they monuments of the oppression and exploita- 
tion of successive generations of the humbler classes pro- 
ductive of the deep hatred, or at its least, the stubborn 
disaffection against which the bishops defend themselves 
by calling to their support the remote and unimpeachable 
authority of the Apostole (i.e. the Pope). It is not all 
gain for them. In the second place, although the king, 
especially in France, becomes the ally of the Church 
against the feudal powers, the protector of the bishops 
and abbots from the barons, he does not do it free. In 
proportion as his sovereignty becomes more firmly estab- 
lished his good will gets to be over friendly and his 
demands become more exacting, which results in the reap- 
pearance of the feeling which gave birth to the first false 
decretals in the episcopate. It urges on the bishops to 
further the absolutism of the Pope (to all appearance 
more remote, and in fact more intermittent) as a way of 

332 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

escape from that of the king. They also prefer to be 
subject to a cleric, whose authority is taken up into that 
of the Church herself, rather than to a layman and par- 
ticularly (for this is what it practically amounts to) to 
the exacting type of layman selected as officials by kings. 

According to tradition and, it may be said, to custom 
and the canon law of the ancient Church, the embodiment 
of her divine power did not reside in the Pope's person, 
but in the Council body. No authoritative decision had 
yet altered this ruling in the thirteenth century. Like- 
wise Boniface VIII 's Bull, Unam Sanctum, in 1302 is the 
first that a Pope ever ventured to address to the whole 
of Christendom without having settled its contents by 
agreement with a regular assembly. But as a matter of 
fact, the Council had previously become a tool in the 
hands of the Pontiff, who in the end succeeded in getting 
it admitted that to him alone belonged the right to con- 
voke, and the power to dissolve, the Council body as also 
to draw up its agenda, fix the order of its deliberations, 
and to approve or disapprove its decisions, it being fur- 
ther understood that any canon of Council not endorsed 
by the Pontiff was null and void. In the Council of 
Vienna in 1311, which abolished the Order of Templars, 
the Pope presumed to declare that any member of the 
assembly who said a word without his permission would 
be excommunicated ! 

The humbling of the episcopate, all the varied and per- 
plexing courses of action, and the many efforts to bring 
about concord — all the happy circumstances and favor- 
able chances that I have just sketched, and particularly 
a certain frame of mine friendly disposed in the disorders 
of the times toward a power which commanded men in 
the name of order and unity, and concentrated in one per- 
sonality the only moral force drawn up against feudal 
violence — created a situation from which some men knew 
how to reap advantage. Differing in qualities and also 
defects, but singularly alike in constancy, these men fol- 
lowed the same policy of rulership. They were Gregory 


VIII (1073-1085), Innocent III (1198-1216), and Boniface 
VIII (1294-1303). 7 

They encountered some resistance. Gregory was first 
opposed by the clergy, because he presumed to impose 
reforms which were distasteful to them ; and then by the 
Emperor, because he desired to wrest from the Emperor 
the right to dispose of the bishoprics and abbeys. He 
battled away all his life with indomitable courage, and 
though he died in exile, he had none the less insured 
the future of the sovereign Papacy. Innocent III real- 
ized Gregory's dream, and did in truth reign over Chris- 
tendom; the pontifical prestige had never stood higher. 
Then the Pope mixed in all things, as the sovereign of 
them all. He places the kingdom of France under an 
interdict because Philippe Auguste cast his wife aside; 
he decides that the Great Charter which the English 
impose upon their king, John Lackland, shall be null and 
void; he confirms the customs and privileges of the city 
of Toulouse with the same finality as he declares that 
henceforth all ecclesiastical dignities shall be received 
and held as fiefs from the Pope, or as he anathematizes 
the Albigenses. 

Finally Boniface VIII proclaims that the Pope bears 
about all rights and prerogatives (jura omnia) in the 
jewel-case of his breast (in scrinio pectoris sui), and he 
adds a second crown to the papal tiara. 8 In his Bull, 
Unam sanctam, of 1302 he defines more sharply the doc- 
trine of the two swords. One of them, as St. Bernard 
had said, ought to be wielded by the Church and the other 

7 We might say that these three names stand for the principle, the 
triumph and the abuse of the papacy in the best period of the Middle 
Ages, but it is not only the Popes who bear them that are behind the 
continual pontifical endeavors during the eleventh to the fourteenth 
centuries. Gregory IX (1227-1241) and Innocent IV (1248-1254), for 
instance, from the point of view of the Roman claims, are scarcely less 

8 It was probably Clement V (d. 1314) who added the third crown. 
The meaning of the three admits of doubt ; some maintain that they 
symbolize the Church militant, suffering, triumphant ; others see in 
them the three papal degrees of primate, patriarch, and Sovereign 
Pontiff; and yet other explanations are given. 

334 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

for her (is quidem pro Ecclesia, Me vero ab Ecclesia 
exercendus) ; one of them belongs to the Pontiff and the 
other to the sovereigns deputized by him to use it accord- 
ing to his orders and with his permission. It is for this 
reason that submission to the Pope in all things is an 
essential obligation of the faith, that is, of salvation, laid 
upon every man (porro subesse Romano pontifici omni 
humanae creaturae declaramus, dicimus, definimus et 
pronuntiamus omnino esse de necessitate fidei). In those 
days it was impossible for the doctrine of absolutism and 
the pride of pontifical office to go further ; only the Vati- 
can Council will be able, with its doctrine of papal 
infallibility, to add to them. 

Unfortunately for Boniface, his prodigious claims 
encounter a resolute opponent in the person of the most 
pious King Philippe le Bel, who intends to remain the 
ruler in his own kingdom. In the struggle that took 
place between them, the Pontiff was vanquished, and his 
defeat opened a period of insurmountable difficulties for 
the Papacy. These will continue to grow more compli- 
cated until the Council of Trent gives its definite sanc- 
tion as respects their orthodoxy and converts the views 
of the last great Pope of the Middle Ages into reality in 
the spiritual realm. 


After all, the tremendous pontifical venture which, as 
far as the temporal power was concerned, had the effect 
for the time being of delivering the Holy See into the 
hands of the king of France after the defeat of Boniface 
VIII, only called moral forces into play. To have been 
permanently effective and decisive, they ought to have 
been also unassailable. They ought to have expressed in 
the degree possible the divine ideal on earth, or at least, 
to have been based upon it ; they should have had no part 
or lot in human imperfections; the Church ought to 
have actually exhibited an embodiment in this world of 
the Gospel, and the Pope been the incarnation of apostolic 
perfection. This was very far from being the case, even 
in the thirteenth century. 


It is not to be denied that the Pope had made a bold 
and resolute effort to bring the life of the Church in 
practice into line with the estate of sublime perfection 
which alone could justify his claims; but he had only- 
very partially succeeded. It has already been said that 
Gregory VII adopted the Clunisian ideas of reform, and 
had tried earnestly to make them prevail. He laid siege 
to two deep-seated evils especially; these were simony and 
nicolaism, that is, the undermining power of the greed 
for gold and of the lusts of the flesh in the clergy. Man's 
deepest instincts rose up against the Pope's desire to 
make asceticism compulsory, and worldly interests also 
all leagued themselves with the clergy against him. He 
encountered tremendous resistance, not only on the part 
of the kings and barons, who had no idea of surrendering 
their means of influencing the Church, but also on the 
part of the bishops, who did not desire to rupture their 
alliance with the state, and of the clergy, who confounded 
the long-continued prevalence of the abuses by which 
they profited with an inalienable right. 

As a matter of fact, in the eleventh century, despite 
frequent interdicts of councils, the marriage of priests 
was, it might be said, a general thing, so much so that 
when Gregory VII reimposed the previous prohibitions 
and ordered the faithful to sever all relations with incon- 
tinent clerics (1074), synods assembled (in Paris in 1074 
and in Winchester in 1076, for instance) to protest 
against it and to devise an organized policy of disobedi- 
ence. It even happens that the papal legates, who pro- 
ceed against priestly menages, run a risk of losing their 
lives. The tenaciousness of the Popes, especially Urban 
II, succeeded in imposing celibacy on the clergy as a 
legal obligation, and the Lateran Council of 1139 decreed 
that the marriages of clergy were not true marriages. 
Nevertheless, even where resistance gave way fairly 
soon, 9 the success was not really all it appeared to be, 
for only too often a state of concubinage took the place 

• The resistance was prolonged for more than a century in the north 
and east of Europe, in the Scandinavian countries, in Poland and Id 

336 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

of a regular marriage. The faithful were ever so much 
more scandalized by the new order than the old, the more 
so because in practice the ecclesiastical authorities 
showed indulgence toward the cleric who looked after 
appearances and kept to the letter of the canon law, by 
not letting his conjugal life become publicly known. 

The issue of the pontifical campaign against simony 
was no more fortunate. The best and most zealous 
among the laity approved of it ; the monks became stirred 
up over the matter ; there were some thunder claps from 
Rome, and then the evil, having consented to a policy of 
dissembling to some slight extent, resumed its peaceful 
existence. The Pope himself, so uncompromising in his 
Bulls and public orders, showed himself much more 
flexible in practice. Was it not Gregory VII who wrote 
to one of his legates: "It is the custom of the Roman 
Church to tolerate certain things and to dissemble with 
regard to others, and for this reason we have thought fit 
to temper the severity of the canons by the mildness of 
discretion"? Except for some rare and ill-advised 
instance, like Urban II, for example, the great Popes of 
the Middle Ages have always elected to conform to the 
prudent " custom" thus defined by Gregory VII. 

The most perceptible result of these abortive reforms 
was the way that the attention of the faithful was called 
very clearly to the distance which still separated their 
pastors from the duties which the clerical state imposed 
upon them and the Pope declared to be compulsory. 
Current opinion about the clergy was not influenced to 
become more indulgent by the demonstration. Many wit- 
nesses in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries leave us in 
no doubt on this point. 10 They state most insistently the 
contrast between the very lofty ideal of the dignity of 
the bishop and the priest, of their duty, their religious 
and their social functions, and the evidence of their cor- 
rupt dealings, their cupidity, their carnal and worldly 
appetites, and particularly, of their negligence in the 

10 See the works of St. Bernard in particular, and with regard to the 
poems in which public sentiment is expressed, Ch. V. Langlois' book 
La vie en France au Moyen Age d'apres quelques moralistes du temps 
(Paris, 190S) ; J. Bgdier, Les Fabliaux (Paris, 1925), pp. 334-340. 


performance of their sacred duties. It is their greed for 
money and their thirst for personal domination for which 
they are first of all reproached. 

lis mainent vie deshonneste, 
Le pie nous tiennent sur la teste. 
Par eulx nous laisses lapider 
Et estrangler et embrider. . . . X1 

The cleric ' ' drinks the sweat of the people ' ' — just like 
the bourgeois of today — and he could not exist if poor 
wretches did not work for him ; the sole science he esteems 
is that of philopecunia! 

It is still not unusual for the Pope, whom the people 
do not know because he is too far off, to be contrasted 
with the clergy whom they deal with close at hand, and 
for him to benefit, in public opinion, by this contrast. 
A poem of the end of the twelfth century 12 describes 
him as "the fount of doctrine, the rod and scourge of 
discipline, the wine and oil of medicine, the cream of 
piety, our leader and our salvation." Throughout the 
entire thirteenth century, his person is the object of the 
greatest respect and the most touching confidence; but 
already bitter complaints against his entourage are to 
be heard, against the rapacious greed of the cardinals, 
against the simony which corrupts everything in Rome. 
All there is "dry," and must be "greased" — the hinges 
of the gates of justice and the tongues of the judges; 
and since it is warm in Rome, the grease melts guickly 
and must be oft renewed: 18 

Rome est la doiz (the source) de la malice, 

Dont sordent tuit li malves vice. 

C 'est un viviers plains de vermine. 

Contre l'Escripture divine 

Et contre Deu sont tuit lor fet. 1 * 

11 Les Lamentations de Mahieu (end of thirteenth century) 603; 
Langlois, op. cit. p. 263. "They lead dishonest lives; they trample us 
beneath their feet ; by them we are stoned, strangled and fettered." 

12 Le livre des manieres; Langlois, op. cit. p. 15. 

13 The poem of Carite', XX. Langlois, op. cit. p. 119. 

14 Bible Guiot, 772: Langlois, op. cit. p. 47. "Rome is the source of 
the ill whence all wretched vices arise ; it is like a foul fishpond filled 
with verminous reptiles. All their deeds are contrary to the Scriptures, 
and work against God." 

338 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 


These are indeed disturbing sentiments, but their rise 
and spread was inevitable. The Pope, however much of 
a genius he might be, was only a man after all, and he 
could not do everything himself ; he must have ministers, 
agents and servants, and he very quickly found himself 
outmaneuvered by them. In proportion as his provinces 
of action extended and his powers of oversight were 
organized, from force of circumstances an administrative 
body gradually took shape which grew more and more 
complex, and became the inevitable intermediary between 
the world of Christians and himself in all normal cases 
and in most others. This body was named the curia: 
it is composed of the cardinals and an ever-increasing 
army of functionaries of all kinds. 

At first the cardinals, in the earlier centuries of the 
Middle Ages, were but clerics deputized to service in the 
parishes and almshouses of the city of Borne, but little 
by little their permanent residence near the Pope added 
to their personal importance and they became in practice 
his usual advisers. In 1059 the sole right to elect the 
successor Pope was granted to them and this privilege 
added prestige and powers to their functions. As these 
powers increased they got organized and the College of 
Cardinals became the "Senate of the Holy See." In 
1245 they secured the right of precedence over the arch- 
bishops, thus constituting themselves a new degree in the 
hierarchy unknown to tradition, a collective authority at 
the Pope's side, substantially irresponsible, and soon 
powerful enough to be a counterpoise to that of the Sov- 
ereign Pontiff himself. For two centuries (the four- 
teenth and fifteenth) it remains an unsettled question 
whether the government of the Church will not become 
an oligarchy; and the periods in which the Holy See is 
vacant, which on different occasions are fairly pro- 
longed, 16 demonstrate that the Pope in person is no 

16 Innocent IV, for instance, is elected in 1243 after an interregnum 
of nearly two years ; Gregory XI in 1271, after three years, Nicholas 
IV, in 1288, more than a year, and Celestinus V, in 1294, over two 
years (after the death of the predecessor in each case). 


longer absolutely indispensable to the functioning of 
the Roman administration. The Pope passes but the 
curia remains ; he is often an old man when he assumes 
the tiara, he has not the strength, or indeed the means 
needed to dispense with customs and traditions and all 
that goes into the making of those formidable passive 
powers which inhere in all stagnant and deeply rooted 
administrative organizations. 

This is the reason that the dissatisfaction raised by 
the Pope's entourage increases in the middle of the 
twelfth century, and growing complaint is made of the 
shameful exploitation which goes on there of all the 
unhappy beings whom misfortune brings into contact 
with it. The attacks become still more pressing against 
the shameful transactions of that "prostitute" whose 
ignominy God will reveal to the world. It is impossible 
for the person of the Pontiff, who appears, at least by 
his presence, to ratify and confirm the curia, in the end 
to escape inclusion in the hatred which the system pro- 
vokes, and be held responsible for its abuses. Thus at 
the end of the twelfth century the Papacy, if not the 
Pope, has become the terror of the churches by reason 
of these exactions, An expedition of legates through a 
country appears like a calamity; the journeyings of a 
Pope are like a disaster. Clement V (1305-1314) sows 
ruin broadcast throughout all the dioceses in which he 
travels, from Bordeaux to Lyons. Papal justice drains 
the purses of the appellants, be their appeal voluntary 
or compulsory; its abuse of the issuance of letters 
of pardon, purchased and paid for, is an offense 
against morality and right ; and the traffic in the sale of 
indulgences for the profits that it authorizes, weakens 
religion. Penance is reduced to the status of bargaining 
accompanied by something very like magic incantation; 
the eucharistic elements, the sacred chrism, the holy 
water, and the relics of the saints have become like 
fetishes. The clergy dispense or retain the benefits to 
be derived from them at their pleasure. Moreover, they 
are reputed to work in themselves, regardless of the sen- 
timents and the moral state of the recipients. 

340 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

Nevertheless, the rigor of orthodox discipline, far 
from relaxing, hems men in more closely than ever, and 
threatens with the harshest penalties any manifestation 
of independence, and even any individual expression 
being given to the religious sentiment. 


The dream of universal domination entertained by 
Boniface VIII certainly organized in a way both 
grandiose and logical and, also, put the finishing touches 
upon the secular drift, varied in form, and in great meas- 
ure unintentional, which had preceded, prepared for and 
determined it. Had it been presented for adoption to 
Leo I or Gregory the Great, their response would 
undoubtedly have been one more of fear, and possibly 
of offense, than of joy ; but it had emerged little by little 
from its former intermixture with the successive forms 
adopted by the Eoman ideal, and the aspirations of the 
ecclesiastical type of life. And now when it offers itself 
in its perfection it is in the shape of a mystic structure 
which only the brains of monks could have conceived, 
and only a cloister-bred faith could have deemed realiz- 
able in this world. It was, in truth, an anticipation as 
it were of the Kingdom of God upon earth; an impos- 
sibility in view of the conditions of life which terrestrial 
realities imposed upon states; an impossibility also as 
respects the ordinary natural life of human beings. It 
fettered the actions of rulers to a deadly degree; it 
demanded of men a self-abnegation in the practice of the 
Christian virtues which carnal instincts and appetites 
usually do not admit of attainment outside the monas- 
teries, where it is compulsory. 

Now as for this dream, imagined not in the contingent 
but in the absolute and gushing up from the depths of 
a mysticism subordinate to theology, it was constructed 
for beings cut off from the interests and the seductive, 
or tyrannical, contingencies of earth. It was, after all, 
to be realized by men only and by means of human 


methods in default of anything better. It soon, 
therefore, by force of circumstances, took on the aspect 
of a plan of domination of the world by the Pope. 
And when people saw those who had made a profession 
of furthering this design straying into enterprises which 
did not appear entirely commendable, but often 
resembled either an exploitation, in no sense mystic, of 
consciences and revenues, or intrigues of the most 
worldly political character, it was not long before the 
plan sank in the esteem of those who were to some extent 
injured by its exponents. Self-interest led them to 
oppose and resist it. 

The clergy had followed the Pope because, through 
him, the Catholic Church affirmed its authority over the 
age, and as the chief servants of this Church their 
biggest stake lay in the expansion of its greatness. The 
rulers had allowed themselves to be caught off their 
guard through their piety and borne along a good way 
without realizing the distance traveled. The great 
majority of the faithful, incapable, in any case, of 
hindering at all, had joyfully saluted in their hearts the 
elevation and intrenchment of the power which brought 
them relief and consolation in their miseries as human 
beings, and held out to them the inestimable compensa- 
tions of the celestial life. But when clergy, sovereigns 
and the plain people saw the edifice of the pontifical 
polity rising upon the Clunisian ideal, the intriguing 
curia speedily becoming corrupt, the ingenious and 
avaricious fiscal system, and realized that the Roman 
presumption did not supply Christendom a better and 
more devoted religious government, they began to feel 
uneasy. And when a certain number of states, growing 
more and more centralized, emerged from feudal dis- 
order — the embryos, already endowed with vitality, of 
the nations of the future — the pontifical dream could but 
appear to them as either a dangerous chimera, or a mon- 
strous attempt to take away their rights by a system of 
dominance in which the name of God and his interests 
would be a cloak for the most earthly and least admis- 

342 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

sible designs. For this reason Philippe le Bel's opposi- 
tion to Boniface VIII, which, while not of course the 
first that the Papacy in its upward march had to en- 
counter, does prove the most effective, is indeed the har- 
binger of new times for it. The Papacy is destined to 
meet with rude trials and it will undergo transformations 
which will definitely widen the breach between it and the 
hegemony in its magnificent and superhuman totality, 
desired by the great Popes whom I have named here, for 
the greater glory of God and the felicity of the faithful. 
In short, all the mighty movement, manifold in its 
forms, which developed within the Church from the 
eleventh century, ended in the fourteenth by making 
of her a machine by which to rule, directed by the Pope, 
an instrument of coercion imposing on all men, by force, 
formulas which, while they meant nothing to the unedu- 
cated, at the same time changed a doctrine intended to 
be a way of life into an arid and intellectual piece of 
pedantry. This movement, however, had not led to the 
disappearance of corruption among the clergy, which 
many circumstances indeed will soon combine to make 
scandalous. The interesting experiment of the mendicant 
orders promptly becomes sterilized when they fall into 
step with the universities, the Schools, the Inquisition 
and all the papal commissions. From the fourteenth 
century on a great need of and a great desire for a true 
reform will draw attention to itself ; even those who pro- 
claim it do not themselves suspect the extent to which 
they would carry it. They believe that the issue is only 
a question of discipline, of education and of the deport- 
ment of persons, of the "head and the members" of the 
Church. At issue also is a question of a fresh orienta- 
tion that shall be given to the official faith and theology, 
the barriers of which living religious sentiment is over- 
flowing. This longing will pursue its slow and secret 
course until the time is ripe and it emerges into the full 
light of day in the sixteenth century. 



It is in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that the 
determining influences come into play in the Church 
which will carry her irresistibly onward to the crisis of 
the Reformation. Some of these influences, and not the 
least active among them, are the fruit of the revival of 
classical culture known as ''humanism," which confers 
upon educated men a state of mind irreconcilable with 
the religious thought and practice of the Middle Ages. 
For the time being we will leave these influences on one 
side. Others have their origin quite naturally in ecclesi- 
astical life itself, in the desire— which circumstances 
render more and more pressing — for a reform of sacer- 
dotalism and from the papal resistance to this desire. It 
is over this latter question that the decisive struggle is 
really waged between the supreme forces opposing the 
Pope supported by the ancient tradition of the sov- 
ereignty of the Council and the pontificalism that is 
seeking to establish the unquestioned legality of the 
absolute monarchy to which the evolution of Church gov- 
ernment has in practice led. And it is because the Pope 
comes off victor and puts his victory to bad use that 
the reform by means of which Catholic unity might have 
been preserved does not take place, and the revolution 
in which Roman Catholicism is shattered becomes 
inevitable. 9 

Two very closely connected events occasioned the cir- 

1 Bibliography in Ficker and Hermelink: Das MittelaUer §§ 38 
and 41-51. 

2 Pastor's History of the Popes, Vol. I; Salembier, Le Grand 
schisme d'Occident (Paris, 1900). 


344 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

cumstances through which the evils already borne by the 
Church reached a point that rendered them insupport- 
able. These were what is known as the "Babylonish 
Captivity" (i.e. the papal sojourn in Avignon from 1308 
to 1370) and the " Great Schism of the West," from 1378 
to 1417. 

The ever-growing claims made by the Pope, and the 
ever-increasing authority acquired by him in the Church 
in the course of the Middle Ages, had never supplied 
him with sufficient material force to secure him his 
independence in all cases. Now, as I have related, in the 
person of Boniface VIII he was imprudent enough to 
enter upon a conflict with the king of France, in which 
he was beaten. By the decree of the conquerer the papal 
power found itself obliged to change its abode. The 
archbishop of Bordeaux, Bertrand de Got, elected in 
1305, who had assumed the name of Clement V, wan- 
dered from town to town in the south of France for four 
years, and from a dread, as he gave out, of falling into 
the power of the Roman barons, he finally established 
himself in Avignon in 1309. Possibly he had no inten- 
tion of remaining there, for he took possession of a 
domicile among the Dominicans which could scarcely be 
more than temporary. The second Pope after him, 
Benedict XII, however, began to build the imposing castle 
which still exists, which made it appear from that time 
that although he talked of returning to the Eternal City, 
the Pope was definitely abandoning it. This at any rate 
was the attitude of Clement VI, Innocent VI, and Urban 
V (who died in 1370), who followed after Clement V, 
John XXII, and Benedict XII. A good many hard things 
have been said about the Popes of Avignon — too many at 
times — for some of them were not unworthy. However, 
it cannot be denied that they were greatly in need of 
funds, and that, to secure them, they had recourse to 
grievous expedients, many of them closely resembling 
simony, while they all seemed to be inspired by a 
cupidity wholly unworthy of the vicar of Christ. These 
Popes endeavored, for instance, to compensate them- 


selves for the loss of their Italian revenues, which had 
dropped off almost altogether, and for the contributions 
due from powers subject to the Holy See, which were 
slow in paying, by developing a system of annates, 3 
reserves and expectatives, and by the pitiless exploita- 
tion of all the ''favors" at their disposal. Their most 
zealous defenders were openly scandalized by these prac- 
tices, and it was common remark that the main occupa- 
tion at Avignon was to count up and weigh piles of 
crowns. It is certain, too, that most of these French 
Pontiffs seemed to give precedence to secular and 
political over religious questions, or those proper to call 

Moreover, the transference of the papal residence to 
Avignon was prejudicial to its continued oecumenical 
authority ; it seemed to have lost its independence, wholly 
or partially, and become subordinate to the king of 


All these handicaps the Pope's enemies turned to 
their own advantage against him. They began by attack- 
ing the secular abuses for which he could with reason be 
reproached, and in the end struck at the pontifical 
authority itself. Some of the Franciscans, for instance, 
faithful to the ideal of poverty given them by the saint 
of Assisi, broke out against John XXII (1316-1334), con- 
trasting his opulence with the divine poverty of Christ 
and the Apostles. The Pope issued a Bull {Cum inter 
nonnullos, of the 12th November, 1323), which declared 
the idea that the Lord and his Apostles possessed no 
property was erroneous and heretical. He taught that in 

3 The annates are the equivalent of >a year's revenues from their 
benefices owed to the Pope by all Church dignitaries provided with a 
consistorial benefice, i.e. a benefice conferred by the Pope in the Con- 
sistory; the bishops and abbots come under this head. The reserves are 
pontifical rescripts by which the Pope declares that he reserves to him- 
self the right of appointment to certain benefices ; he naturally required 
a money payment for such appointments. The expectative is the right 
granted to a cleric to a certain benefice whenever it next falls vacant. 

348 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

so far as he was a human being, Christ, it is true, had 
only small possessions and had set an example of perfect 
poverty, but that he none the less remained the Lord and 
Master of everything upon earth. When he said : ' ' My 
Kingdom is not of this wo rid,' ' it was to be interpreted 
therefore as a declaration that his royalty came to him 
from God, and not from men. The application of these 
arguments was easily extended to include a vindication 
of pontifical undertakings productive of terrestrial 
wealth. But since tricks and threats cannot turn argu- 
ments that are poor, or even worse, into good reason- 
ing, the Fratricelli or "Little Brothers of St. Francis" 
did not submit to those of John XXII, and the Emperor 
Louis of Bavaria, who had quarreled with him, encour- 
aged them in their resistance. 

One among them, William of Ockham (1270-1343), an 
English Franciscan, exiled in Germany, wrote a pamphlet 
which with boldness and astonishing perspicacity affirmed 
that the Church must accommodate herself to the needs of 
successive ages, that neither the papal primacy nor the 
clerical hierarchy is in itself necessary to her existence, 
and that they ought not to be regarded as infallible cus- 
todians of the truth. The Pope may be mistaken, so 
too may the Council, which nevertheless stands above 
him, and the only safe rule is to rely upon the Scriptures, 
or the fundamental beliefs which the Church has every- 
where and at all times accepted. 

About the same time two professors of the University 
of Paris, Marsiglio of Padua and Jean of Jandun, called 
to Nuremberg by Louis of Bavaria, composed a work 
there in 1326, entitled Defensor Pads, ablaze with the 
most revolutionary opinions. Sovereignty belongs to 
the people, who ought to elect those whom they will 
recognize as possessed of power over them; in reli- 
gious matters, the seat of authority must be sought in the 
Scriptures, and in practice their interpretation is to be 
entrusted, not to the Roman curia, but to the Council- 
general, convoked by the secular power, in which, side 
by side with the Church dignitaries, laymen elected by 


the communes will have their seats. The organization of 
the Church is a matter dependent upon circumstances, 
and cannot claim the respect due in matters of faith ; the 
Pope is no more than an agent for the execution of the 
decrees of the Council ; the state supervises the Church, 
and governs her in temporal matters ; it is her judge, it 
limits the number of her clergy, makes provision for her 
benefices, and assigns her share of the public charges to 
her. John XXII, who flares up against these truths, 
is "the great dragon," "the old serpent," and so forth. 

War speeches these all and, to a considerable extent, 
doctrines suited to the circumstances, but they are ter^ 
ribly disconcerting, just the same, for they give proof of 
a strange slackness in Church discipline and profound 
confusion in men's minds. At bottom the evil of the 
Papacy of Avignon is merely the evil of following the 
movement of the times in which it lived; of conforming 
to the habits of secular princes, seized upon one after 
another by a taste for luxury, and more or less influenced 
by greed for gold. The bishops, on a smaller scale, are 
doing nothing more or less than the Pope himself. 
Nevertheless the faithful are perfectly justified in their 
protests against this scandalous pitch of secularism, so 
contrary to the Scriptures and to authentic Church tradi- 
tion. From all this strife, in which politics participate 
considerably, the evilly disposed of all kinds profit; 
heretics find it gives them facilities for concealing them- 
selves and for spreading their views; vicious clerics 
receive still less punishment, and the ambitious turn this 
confusion shamelessly to account. The Papal States in 
Italy dwell in an almost uninterrupted state of trouble 
and disorder. 

Thus all goes ill in the house of the Lord. This is an 
old saying, but it was never truer than now. Secular 
princes, like Frederick of Sicily, writing to his brother 
Jayme of Aragon in 1305 ; saints, like Catherine of Siena, 
branding in bitter terms "the evil pastors of the 
infection and decay into the garden of the Church"; 
poets, like Dante (1265-1321), who deplores the decadence 

348 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

of monasticism and of the Papacy,* or Petrarch, who is 
Church," demand the repression of those "who carry 
transported with rage when he undertakes to describe 
the vices of the papal court in Avignon; doctors like 
Nicholas of Clemenges, whose De ruina ecclesiae gives 
some idea of the extraordinary dilapidation of the 
ecclesiastical edifice; — all these agree with many other 
authorities of lesser fame who are no less emphatic in 
their censures, in painting the evil in the somberest 
colors. The faithful, whom their pastors neglect in so 
many respects, have no practicable resources at their 
disposal to deal with them. To make a complaint to 
Rome leads to nothing, except at much expense of time 
and patience, protection and resources. Nothing could 
be more scandalous and discouraging to these poor peo- 
ple than this insolent power of wealth, which seems to 
pervade the whole Church, to dominate and drive her 
without any real effort on her part to rid herself of its 

The most serious feature is that the men of this age 
for the most part do not seem to imagine it possible to do 
without these clergy who, by their egotism and their 
thirst for earthly enjoyments, give the faithful the im- 
pression that they are giving up the duties of their pro- 
fession. It is noteworthy that the very best Christians, 
who most insistently demand prompt reform, still think 
that the issue is merely a question of rectifying Church 
discipline, correcting the morals of the clergy, getting rid 
of such of them as are unworthy of clerical orders, when 
over and above that the question at issue is one of giv- 
ing a new direction to the official faith, admitting that 
Scholasticism has had its day, and working out a new 
theological system. 

That some bold and logical minds among them surmise 

* II Paradiso, Canto XXII, the conversation with St. Benedict, and 
Canto XXVII, the wrath of St. Peter : 
"He who usurped on earth my place . . . 
Hath made my burial-ground a conduit for that blood and filth." . . . 
(Dents' Temple Classics.) Quegli ch'usurpa in terra il luogo mio . . . 

Falto ha del cimiterio mio cloaca 
Del sangue e della puzza . . . 


this to be the case is indicated by the revolt of John 
Wyclif (1320-1384), one of the doctors of Oxford Uni- 
versity, who rejects en bloc transubstantiation, confirma- 
tion, auricular confession, the divine nature of the sacra- 
ment of orders, all the dogmatic and sacramental acquisi- 
tions of the Middle Ages, and even the Tradition, 
in the name of a return to New Testament Christianity. 
Although a reactionary in appearance this man is a 

The partisans of reform do not yet go so far; in 
despair over the Pope, they still retain confidence in the 
Church. They artlessly persuade themselves that the 
Church Council possesses within itself curative virtues 
able to accomplish the work of recovery. They imagine 
that all would be well if the Papacy which has accident- 
ally become the supreme head of the whole ecclesiastical 
body were put back in its legitimate place and office, in 
conformity with tradition and its ancient rights. It was, 
in all probability, William of Ockham who formulated 
in the course of his contests with the Pope this theory 
of the conciliar functions upon which the reformers of 
the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries are to place all 
their hopes. 

Moreover, this same William of Ockham had intro- 
duced into the religious thought of his times a yet more 
profound source of disturbance than the disquiet which 
his vindication of the Council rights had caused the 
Church authorities. In brilliant fashion he had rein- 
stated nominalism in a most radical form. The uni- 
versalia, he declared, are not things (res) which alone 
are real and actually existent, but words (nomina), signs, 
by which to designate many things similar one to another. 
From its very nature, the human mind can only grasp 
realities that are individual and contingent; whence it 
follows that all science, which pretend to go beyond these 
(such as metaphysics and theology) tender us no 
security: their base rocks under them. Had William of 
Ockham drawn from his statements the logical conclu- 
sions to which they lead, he would have canceled all 

350 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

Christian speculative thought from Origen to St. Thomas 
Aquinas, or reduced it to nothing more than a some- 
what ingenious logomachy, a juggling with concepts sup- 
ported only by hypotheses which cannot be verified. But 
this logician lacked thoroughness, for he reinstated all 
that he seemed to destroy, or at any rate he justified its 
preservation beforehand by proclaiming that if it be true 
that knowledge is the possession of God alone, man is 
in the enjoyment of faith. Thus the most formidable 
of criticisms found itself dissolved into a fideistic effu- 
sion ; for if the truths encompassed by faith are, through 
their line of descent from God, solid ground for relig- 
ious thought, how can the right to build upon them be 
refused or appear less legitimate than the right of science 
to build upon experimental truths? 

In William of Ockham's nominalism Scholastic the- 
ology recognized chiefly principles and tendencies to be 
dreaded, and that is why it obstinately opposed it 
throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. 
Nevertheless when the doctrine succeeded — for it did 
succeed — in forcing its way into the Sorbonne, and 
shortly afterwards gaining the mastery there, it did not 
engender the agnosticism to which it seemed, logically, 
to be tending, and it effected no change in the orthodox 
dogmas. However, it remained so far in sympathy with 
the spirit of its founder that its chief adherents favored 
the desire for reform and its provisional measures. 


The repeated assertion that his return to Kome would 
save the Church induced Gregory XI in 1378 to go there 
to die. This action was demanded by all enlightened 
Christians, because they were convinced that the cor- 
ruption of the Papacy would never be amended in 
Avignon. This same decision, which served them as a 
basis for too naive hopes of a new springtime for the 
Church, was the starting-point of a tremendous crisis. 

Gregory's successor, Urban VI, proclaimed his inten- 
tion to put the expected reform in operation and to begin 


at the "head" of the Church, that is, the curia, with such 
a blowing of trumpets that his cardinals were appalled. 
Bullied by him, they soon gave out — erroneously in all 
probability — that they had only elected him under pres- 
sure of the Eoman populace, deposed him, and chose 
Clement VII in his stead. Urban who, if he lacked cau- 
tion, was not wanting in resolution, refused to abdicate, 
and since the people of Eome supported him, his rival 
had no other resource than to return to Avignon (1378). 
Then began the Great Schism which in concert with the 
Hundred Years' War, and the state of anarchy in Ger- 
many and in Italy, plunged the Church into most 
deplorable disorder. 

As political reasons determined, the ruling princes 
ranged themselves under the one Pope or the other, and 
thus prolonged the division. The two Pontiffs excom- 
municated each other, and each other 's partisans. In the 
doubt experienced by the faithful as to the seat of the 
true Pope all these anathemas produced the most pain- 
ful impression upon them. Finally they asked questions 
concerning what validity there was in the ordinations 
carried out under the authority of Eome or of Avignon, 
and whether the priests they had really were divinely 
qualified to confer the sacraments. Whilst the two rivals 
were exchanging canonical fulminations, and the sov- 
ereigns and the doctors were vainly seeking grounds for 
conciliation, simpler-minded Christians were wandering 
off at will ; they were believing what they liked, and what 
they were able. More eager than ever for spiritual 
guidance, they were in despair over the lack of it, and 
could not bear the idea that the unity of the Church 
might be destroyed, and the faith no longer have a 
single center and be assured of one sole guardian. Far 
from demanding back the spiritual autonomy which they 
could so easily have regained, they thrust it from them 
as an intolerable scourge. The more the disorder 
increased, the stronger became their attachment as the 
remedy for it to the restoration of the hierarchic and 
traditional authority. At the same time, and by a kind 

352 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

of contradiction which was an inexorable necessity 
unperceived by them, they yearned with their whole 
hearts for that reform of corruption which looked to them 
to be the infallible panacea, in the very measure they felt 
it would be difficult to realize and could not clearly see 
the means of bringing it about. 

Moreover, the prerogatives that the episcopate and 
the sovereigns themselves, by the series of capitulations 
we have studied, had relinquished to the Pontiff, were 
such that all initiative and all methods of carrying out 
any piece of business regularly in the Church were hence- 
forth his alone, and they did not see any way out of the 
crisis without his willing consent. Now this will was 
duplicated, since the exercise of it was in the hands of 
two Popes at the same time, and Christendom was appre- 
hensively turning round in a vicious circle. 

It is quite true that at the beginning of the fifteenth 
century the Church affords a sorry spectacle. The 
moral state of the clergy, a prey to simony and con- 
cubinage, is a lasting disgrace. The regular clergy, 
except for the Carthusians, are scarcely any improve- 
ment upon the parochial clergy; all are profiting by the 
relaxation of surveillance which is an inevitable con- 
sequence of the conflicting pontifical jurisdictions. More- 
over there is an open quarrel between the Mendicant 
Friars and the parochial clergy, and both end by losing 
prestige from the abusive epithets they exchange. If 
the laity have not yet generally come to dispute the 
legitimacy of the ecclesiastical organization, which shows 
itself to be so feeble in face of the needs of the times, 
each man takes the attitude dictated by his special 
temperament with regard to the ills which all alike 
deplore. Some sink into a state of apathetic hopeless- 
ness; others offer up prayers for the "angelical Pope" 
whom Giacomo of Flora had predicted, or on the other 
hand dream of a Church without a Pope ; some endeavor 
to make the world worthy of the miracle of divine inter- 
vention by abandoning themselves to flagellations in com- 
mon. Still others, again, join brotherhoods for mutual 


edification and for planning the reform that the clergy 
do not accomplish, and, naturally, heresy lies in wait for 
them. The Brothers of the Communal Life, the Beghards 
and Beguines, halfway between clerics and laics, abound 
in good works, in worthy examples, and in importunate 
exhortations. The doctors, however, especially those of 
the University of Paris, hope that some oecumenical coun- 
cil will meet for the purpose of putting an end to the 
schism, which will accomplish a reform and impose it 
upon a Pope and there will once again be but one who, 
furthermore, will be reduced to the status of supreme 
agent in the execution of the Church's desires. 

This hope proved vain. By giving the regular pro- 
cedure of Convocation a strong wrench, the first attempt 
at a Council was made at Pisa in 1409. Far from yield- 
ing the results expected, it created a third Pope to com- 
pete with the two others. Pressure by the Emperor 
Sigismund, however, prevailed upon one of them, John 
XXIII (1410-1415), whose affairs were going very badly, 
to convoke the Council of Constance (1414-1418), with 
which moreover he very soon quarreled. 

The reformers now believed themselves to be masters 
of the situation, and they set forth the essential prin- 
ciples of their platform of action in the celebrated 
Declaration of March 29th, 1415. It declares that the 
(Ecumenical Council speaks for the Church Militant, and 
all the faithful, including the Pope, owe it obedience in 
matters of faith, the extinction of schism, and the reform 
of the Church. The Pope has neither the power to dis- 
solve nor even to adjourn it or to remove it to another 
place of meeting against its will. Roman Catholic the- 
ologians of the present day still groan over "this 
melancholy page in the annals of the Church" which 
they consider this initiative exercised by the Council of 
Constance to be, and the quibblings used by them to 
show that it was contrary to tradition, illegal, and 
heretical are endless. From the historical point of view, 
however, just the contrary is true. Unfortunately the 
Fathers of the Council of Constance had not at their 

354 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

command the means necessary to make profitable use of 
the authority which they had just taken back to them- 
selves, and so the task of reforming the Church was 
beyond their strength. Possibly they might have been 
able, at least, before reinstating a Pope, sole and single, 
to take more practical precautions with regard to him 
than a mere statement of principle. Unhappily, the 
schism appeared so terrible to the faithful, and so great 
was the desire for ecclesiastical unity which reached the 
Fathers from all quarters, that they were promptly over- 
borne by the popular will. "Without further delay, they 
therefore elected a Pope, Martin V (Nov. 11, 1417). The 
immediate joy felt by Christendom made it forget for the 
time being its wisest resolutions with regard to reform. 

Very inopportunely, moreover, John Huss and Jerome 
of Prague (both of them burnt alive at Constance in 
1415) had just aroused the menacing dread of heresy in 
the eyes of the Fathers of Council and reminded them of 
the need for a prompt and powerful authority in Church 
matters. Profiting by this circumstance Martin V 
restored without delay the pontifical power in its ful- 
ness. It did not take him long to discard the half-hearted 
attempts at reformation to which he had at first been 
inclined. Henceforward all his activities were devoted 
to the restoration of Eome from its ruin, the reestab- 
lishment of the pontifical states, and the reduction of the 
cardinals, who were too inclined to think themselves of 
great importance, to their strictly subordinate positions. 
He also brought the curia once more into play, and made 
a fortune for his own family. Of the principles of the 
Council of Constance he took no notice save to prepare 
to overthrow them. He consented to convoke another 
Council at Pavia in 1423, but as soon as he perceived 
signs of the Constantine spirit beginning to appear he 
dissolved it. 


Only the pressure of the secular rulers and universi- 
ties could induce Martin V to convoke at Basle the Coun- 
cil-General based upon the foundations laid at Constance, 


which opened on July 23, 1431. Then began a decisive 
contest between the episcopacy and the Pope, and it 
lasted twelve years. It was Eugenius IV who kept up 
the fight, which was a hard one. The Council went as far 
as possible; it proclaimed itself superior to the Pope, 
drew up some very drastic measures of reform, openly 
resisted the enforcement of Eugenius' orders, did not 
even obey his most portentous Bulls dissolving it, 
deposed him as guilty of heresy, in view of the obstinacy 
of his ill-will toward the assembly, and nominated an 
anti-Pope, Felix V. But the great Constantine doctors, 
d'Ailly, Gerson, Nicholas of Clemenges, had died one 
by one ; others, like Nicholas of Cusa and ^Eneas Sylvius, 
had deserted to the enemy. The Council found itself 
depleted both in quality and in number. Chief in impor- 
tance, Christendom was still afraid of schism, and stub- 
bornness also comes easier to one man than to an 
assembly. After a period of apparent triumph the 
Council was vanquished, and its end (1443) really marks 
the triumph of the Roman pontificate. The conqueror, 
to be sure, needed time, patience and the exercise of some 
diplomacy to clinch his victory and secure its recogni- 
tion. Eugenius IV therefore first of all challenged Ger- 
man opinion, which was very much in favor of the 
Council, and his negotiations, backed up with special con- 
cessions and general promises, led to defections. With 
the aid of .ZEneas Sylvius, Frederick III was won over, 
and on his deathbed (February 7, 1447) the Pope received 
the homage of Germany. Nicholas V continued the same 
policy of concessions to individuals and of dividing his 
opponents, and by a Concordat signed in Vienna in 1448 
he regained possession of the nomination to several Ger- 
man benefices. This same Nicholas V, however, revoked 
the decrees that Eugenius IV pronounced against the 
Council of Basle. When .ZEneas Sylvius becomes Pope, 
under the title of Pius II, he recognizes the rights of 
the (Ecumenical Council by a Bull (1463), but the pon- 
tifical jurists are at work at the same time as the 
diplomats, and they recover point by point all that 
seemed to have been yielded as a whole. 

356 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

The truth is that in the time just preceding the 
Reformation, the curia has once more become mistress of 
Christendom, and no layman or cleric can resist it 
in ecclesiastical matters with impunity. The Church 
endures Paul II, Sixtus IV, Innocent VIII, Alexander 
VI, each of them guilty of more scandalous acts than his 
predecessor. Innocent VIII, elected by means of simony, 
once Pope, publicly celebrates the marriages of his two 
children. Alexander Borgia, who causes the most dar- 
ing apologists of the Papacy usually to falter before the 
task his life sets them, has six children before his election 
and two more afterwards. There is absolutely no dif- 
ference between these sovereigns of the Church and any 
of the scheming and dissolute laymen who at that time 
were governing the Italian principalities. Venality is 
shamelessly practiced at Rome; it is calmly on parade 
in the official tax for the costs of the chancellery pub- 
lished in 1512. The Inquisition keeps under surveillance 
the refractory and the objectors, who run great risks. 
In the time of Eugenius IV the Carmelite Thomas Con- 
ecte, whose virtues none denied, and who had also 
acquired a great reputation by his preaching of penitence 
in Italy and France, had the temerity to speak against 
the curia; he was imprisoned, condemned as a heretic 
and burnt alive. Such was also the fate of the illustrious 
Dominican Savonarola, who undertook to reform Flor- 
ence and, in his sermons, dared to accuse Alexander VI 
of simony; he was hanged and his body burnt, Mav 
23, 1498. 

This despotism de facto was not long in becoming 
equally for the Pope, and by his will, a despotism de jure. 
When a fresh oecumenical council met — this was the 
fifth Lateran Council, from 1512 to 1517 — Leo X, by his 
Bull Pastor ceternus of December 19, 1516, is able to 
proclaim his entire sovereignty over all Councils and 
his absolute right to convoke them, to transfer them to 
another place of assemblage, and to dissolve them accord- 
ing to his good pleasure. He relied upon documents that 
were invented, or else forged, to prove that the councils 


of old had always been held under the Pope's authority, 
and so in calling himself their master he was only 
reclaiming an ancient right. Roman Catholic theologians 
of today state that to all intents and purposes this had 
always been the inalienable right of the Pope, but their 
faith wrongs their knowledge for, in truth, Leo X's asser- 
tion only served to give permanence to a victory won; 
it did not in any way call back a principle as old as the 
Church ; on the contrary, indeed, it was false to authentic 

Henceforward the Pope is the head of the spiritual 
government of Christendom; the Church is his born 
servant and it is his right to regulate the faith in the 
ways he approves. If he does not yet proclaim himself 
infallible, he certainly seems very near to believing him- 
self so. Moreover, the hour draws near when the well- 
known Spanish Inquisitor Torquemada (1420-1498) will 
say so by implication, and the Cardinal Cajetano, the 
inspirer of the Bull Pastor ceternus, will proclaim it 
openly. At any rate, the time is not yet ripe for its 
acceptance and certain Popes, like Adrian VI (1459- 
1523), can still spurn the idea, but it will have its hour 
of triumph. 6 

Now the Pope did not accomplish any program of 
reform, and thus he disappointed the hopes of those who 
longed so ardently for it. Modern apologists maintain 
that it would have been an impossible task, and it is 
fortunate for them that they can be so sure about it. 
In any case, he did not try ; he did not_ even tone down 
the bad practices of the curia. The secular princes had 
no other resource for limiting the papal authority in 
their domains than to negotiate compromises with him, 

B In awaiting it, Paul IV, by the Bull Cum ex apostolatus officio 
(1558), proclaims that the Pope is "the vicar of God and of Jesus 
Christ upon earth" (qui Dei et Domini nostri J. C. vices gerit in 
terris), that he judges all men, and is exempt from their judgment. 
We must not forget, either, that the Bull called that Of the Last Supper, 
the first edition of which goes back to Gregory XI (1372), which has 
been retouched and added to many times in the course of the three 
centuries which followed, contains a curse upon all the schismatics and 
heretics "as determined by the Pope." Its tendency is quite clear. 

358 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

just as they were accustomed to do to end the political 
disputes which arose among themselves, and these com- 
promises are the Concordats. Frederick III concluded 
one in 1447, and Francis I of France did the same in 1516. 

Not only did the Pope not apply himself to the work 
of reform, but he plunged into high matters of state in 
Italy and elsewhere. This move increased his expenses, 
and his need of money likewise, and by the same token 
further diminished his scruples about how it was pro- 
cured. He troubled himself but very slightly about the 
religious necessities of the faithful, or their complaints, 
and the evils redoubled from which the whole body of 
Christians had suffered at the time when the great Coun- 
cils of the fifteenth century sought to find a remedy for 
them. Moreover a program of reform, such as the Coun- 
cil of Basle had envisaged, stopped far short of the real 
needs of the times, and a more thoroughgoing movement 
was in course of preparation, a movement destined to 
prove to the authorities of the Church that a religion can 
only continue to live by remaining in sympathy with the 
religious feelings and the needs of its adherents. 

Of this movement, the preaching of Wyclif, and of 
John Huss, gave no uncertain advance notice, and blind- 
ness alone could believe that a few violent measures 
would hold it in check. At the end of the fifteenth cen- 
tury, more than one sign indicates that it persists and 
is spreading. Certainly very many men still hold to the 
program of Constance, and work for no more than 
disciplinary and administrative reform in the Church — 
Savonarola himself did not go beyond that — but even the 
most energetic of their personal efforts remain too scat- 
tered, and limited to yield any profitable results. It is 
not in some belated Spirituals to impart any practical 
importance to their dreams; they accomplish scarcely 
more than to keep up the chronic discontent of the times 
and to scatter here, there and everywhere a most exact 
description of the intolerable defects of the Roman 

In Germany, in the Netherlands, and in Switzerland, 


however, there are followers of the tradition of Huss, 
and precursors already of Luther, who are not satisfied 
to agree with the sentiment of Jean de Wesel (con- 
demned to life imprisonment by the Inquisition in 1479) : 
"I despise the Pope, the Church and the Councils, but I 
laud Christ our Lord." Like him, they reject indulgences, 
the Mass, fasting, pilgrimages, monastic vows, indeed 
all the panoply of Roman piety; they disavow transub- 
stantiation and the intercession of the Virgin and of the 
saints. It is the entire recasting of religion and of the 
Christian life that these men feel to be necessary, desire, 
and at the risk of their lives, have in course of prepara- 
tion beneath the dread glance of the Holy Office. If 
occasion brings them together and an energetic leader 
offers to lead them to the fray, they will strike the estab- 
lished Church a blow that she will not easily parry, for 
the vital embodiment of the faith of the people she gov- 
erns is no longer resident within her. The ruling power 
of religion, which she always professes to be, no longer 
responds to the religious needs of the age at which we 
have now arrived. 





Fkom the middle of the fourteenth century the signs of 
serious change in the minds of men became perceptible in 
Italy. Men began to forsake abstractions and specula- 
tion in the clouds and to seek a return to nature and to 
the rationalism of antiquity. This was the beginning of 
what is called the Renascence or, at any rate, of its mani- 
festation in properly intellectual matters, humanism, the 
institutio in bonas artes, the pursuit of those studies 
which, according to the ancients, really form a man. 

In the latter half of the fifteenth century three events 
precipitated the movement and extended it to the whole 
of Western Europe. Constantinople was captured by the 
Turks; its scholars migrated to Italy, taking its manu- 
scripts with them, and there they imparted to educated 
men, well prepared to receive the gifts, the culture and 
the spirit of antiquity. In the second place, the invention 
of the art of printing enabled books and ideas to pene- 
trate everywhere, to such an extent that on all sides 
scholars arose as if by magic. Upheld by an almost 
sacred enthusiasm, they applied themselves with unslaked 
ardor to the exploration of the world reopened before 
them. Last of the three, voyages of discovery, which 
unexpectedly enlarged men's horizon and changed their 
ideas about the globe, inclined them to conclude that the 
religious conceptions of the Middle Ages were very nar- 
row ones, adapted to a quite small world. 

Very soon two great results of this profound mental 
upheaval emerged quite clearly. First of all, experiment 

1 Burckhardt, Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien (Leipzig, 1908) ; 
Geiger, Renaissance unci Humanismtis in Italien und Deutschland (Ber- 
lin, 1882). 


364 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

found its vanished dignity returned once more, and it 
regained in the intellectual life of men the place which it 
had lost so many ages before to the profit of authority. 
At the beginning of the fifteenth century Pierre d'Ailly 
did not venture to decide whether the Caspian Sea was 
an enclosed or an open sea, because while travelers 
worthy of credence advanced the one opinion, revered 
authors of antiquity maintained the other. Like scruples 
will not obtain a century later. In the second place, 
intellectual culture began to be secularized; it was no 
longer, as in the Middle Ages, solely the privilege of the 
clerics, and as a result it tended to reject the old 
Scholastic position that all the sciences are the servants 
of theology and directly tributary to her. Henceforth a 
value of its own is attached to each particular study, and 
it was toward the development of the knowledge of the 
world and of man, toward human utility as their goal, and 
no longer toward the unfolding of Divine Truth, that all 
studies were converging. 


Humanism, however, did not everywhere produce the 
same effects in its contacts with the Christian religion. 
Without stirring outside of Italy, extremely varying 
aspects of it present themselves for observation. 

The most striking of them is certainly the revival of 
pagan scepticism and Greek philosophy, frequently 
accompanied by overt hostility to Churchmen and Church 
matters. The apparent respect which it endeavors to 
preserve for dogmas properly speaking is usually only a 
precaution taken by prudence against troublesome pos- 
sible reactions of the Holy Office. By the middle of the 
fourteenth century Boccaccio (1313-1375) had already 
written the celebrated story of the Three Rings, which 
represent the three religions — Jewish, Christian and 
Moslem. Each believes itself to be the heir to revealed 
truth, but which one is right? This question is not yet 
decided, and apparently it will long remain an open prob- 


lem. Thus speaks Melchisedek the Jew to Saladin the 
Sultan, but that is also what Boccaccio no doubt himself 
thinks. This is certainly not the opinion held by the strict 
Christian. Neither is it the opinion of an unbeliever or 
of an enemy of the Church, for Boccaccio does not seem 
to be either the one or the other of these, and he will even 
come at the close of his life to a very edifying end. He is, 
however, no longer confined in the narrow grooves of the 
faith and the fanaticism upon which the Church of the 
Middle Ages founded her domination. And this is but a 

Lorenzo Valla, a man of great learning and talent, pub- 
lishes in 1431 his De Voluptate, in which is expressed in 
a most outright way what a return to ' ' ancient customs ' ' 
would mean, as the paganizing humanists understand 
them. The evident aim of the three dialogues which com- 
pose the work is to turn the ethics of self-abnegation, 
stoicism, and Christianity into ridicule, and to exalt as 
being a law of nature the cult of the senses and 
the doctrine of voluptuousness, that is, Epicurean 
ethics in the sense understood by Horace : Omnis 
voluptas bona est. They exhibit an energetic detestation 
of Christian continoncy: the chastity which is the result 
of a vow can only be an act of superstition, not of 
religion; and Valla dares to write: " Whores and prosti- 
tutes deserve more from the human race than do nuns 
with their chastity and virginity!" The book certainly 
closes with an affirmation of the triumph of Christian 
ethics, but it is quite clear that this conclusion has no 
other bearing than a mere formal concession designed to 
disarm theological wrath, as no one can fail to see. 

In his De professione religiosorum, Valla no longer 
confines himself to the ascetic principle of the monachal 
life but attacks the monastic system itself. In his De 
falso creditu et ementita Constantini donatione decla- 
matio, he is not satisfied with destroying, by means of 
decisive arguments, the confidence accorded throughout 
the Middle Ages to the supposed donatio Constantini and 
depriving the political pretensions of the Pope of one of 

366 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

their main supports. He inveighs violently against the 
temporal sovereignty of the Pontiff, his bad government 
and his tyranny. He goes so far as to apply to him the 
taunt of Achilles to Agamemnon: Ar|piop6eog Bccodeug — 
" sovereign devourer of his people." Valla protests, to 
be sure, that he is only speaking of temporal matters, and 
upon occasion he is liberal with respectful phrases in 
regard to the spiritual functions of His Holiness, but the 
point here again that this is a measure of precaution is 
clearly evident and its bearing quite easy to gauge. In 
addition to Constantine's donatio, he for excellent 
reasons rejects the authenticity of the well-known cor- 
respondence of Jesus with Abgar of Edessus, and of the 
redaction by the Twelve of the credo known as the 
Apostles' Creed. Higher criticism, which is destined 
later to raise such mischief for the Roman Church, thus 
resolutely begins its disconcerting work. 

Valla (1406-1457) was not an isolated phenomenon in 
his age. Antonio Beccadelli, called Panormita (1394- 
1471), in a collection of obscene epigrams, entitled 
Hermaphroditus, also advocates complete carnal license 
as was the style in antiquity. Pope Eugenius IV puts a 
ban on the reading of the book, and many a well-meaning 
theologian refutes its teaching in prose and in verse, suc- 
cessfully enough to further its circulation. Poggio (1380- 
1459), who is scarcely less licentious, does not however 
fail to denounce the corrupt morals of the clergy and, 
even if here and there he prudently makes use of 
expressions which pretend to appear Christian, his 
attitude at heart is one of indifference to Christianity and 
to the Church. He really lives in quite a different sphere 
and would exchange without regret all sacred literature 
for an unpublished harangue of Cicero. All that he sees 
in the sad business of Jerome of Prague is the intrepid 
courage of the victim, which reminds him of Cato of Utica 
or Mucius Sccevola! The reasons for which that here- 
siarch is condemned and the sentiments which sustain his 
courage at the stake interest him not a whit. 

Face to face with the Christian faith, the philosophy of 


antiquity, in its main aspects according to the dogmas 
given it by its various schools, holds up its head more or 
less fully again. 2 Neoplatonism, especially, finds favor 
with the scholars, and the Jewish Kabbala, 3 which is all 
that remains of gnosis in the hermetic and syncretistic 
books of the Hebrew sects, combines with it to form a 
theosophy, somewhat different as to its matter, but not 
at all so in its aim, from that which in our own days 
gives satisfaction to a number of religious people. At 
the other extreme of the speculative thought issuing from 
antique culture, is Pietro Pomponazzi (1462-1525), and 
later, but following in his step, Cremonini (1550-1631). 
Both profited from the comparative tolerance of the Vene- 
tian government, then ruling Padua, where they were 
teaching. On the authority of the Greek text of Aristotle, 
of the veritable Aristotle rediscovered in the original 
at last, and of his ancient commentators, they denied, 
it was said, the immortality of the soul, and in any case 
constructed a system of ethics which did away with 
awards beyond the grave. And between these two 
extremes, the rejuvenated doctrines of Empedocles, 
Parmenides and Pyrrho, of the Porch, the Academos and 
even those of the old Ionians find a place. 

Neoplatonism profits from the vogue it has had with 
ecclesiastical authorities and it can go far without arous- 
ing their suspicions. And we already know, from the 
numerous examples afforded by the Middle Ages, that 
it does not find it difficult to go very far indeed, especially 
upon the road to pantheism. Stoicism, too, seems scarcely 
less dangerous. It may endeavor to preserve the illusion 
that an identity exists between its supreme Deity and 
the God of the Christians, but the difference between the 

2 R. Charbonnel, La pens6e italienne au XVIe si&cle et le courant 
libertin (Paris, 1917). Facts above all will be found in this book. 

8 The Kabbala or tradition consists of a certain number of writings of 
uncertain origin and date in their primary form, but revised and circu- 
lated toward the end of the Middle Ages. Gnostic and Pythagorean 
influences, with those of the Alexandrine Neoplatonism, and, no doubt, 
of Scotus Erigena, as well as Jewish, Arabian, and Oriental speculative 
theories are combined in it. As a whole it is extremely confused and 
obscure, and its forbidding gibberish renders it a discouraging study. 

368 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

two conceptions cannot fail to manifest itself very soon. 
The Stoic God is the soul of the universe, and not really 
a personal God like the heavenly Father. Again, Stoic 
ethics are self-sufficing; they proceed from nature, so to 
speak, and do not rely upon grace ; they have no need of 
a doctrine of Redemption. The same is true of all the 
ancient philosophical systems which have taken on new 
life. There may be bona-fide efforts made to harmonize 
them with Christianity, and people may even, upon the 
strength of some merely external resemblances, believe 
them to be a success. At bottom however they are still 
hostile, begotten in essentials, as they are, of different 
needs, nourished in wholly different spheres, and guided 
by very dissimilar inspirations. There is nothing in com- 
mon between them and Christianity save the elements it 
once borrowed from them, which have been transformed 
in the course of their assimilation, so that they have 
now become more fitted to accentuate contrasts than to 
denote connections between them. 


No denial is possible that in all this revival of human- 
ism much mere writing and disingenuousness were inter- 
mingled, to say nothing of the illusions of an ardent 
pedantry ill able to differentiate veritably vital ideas 
from the charm of their phrasing. It did, however, 
demonstrate that traditional religion as respects its 
dogmas, its spirit and its institutions had little in com- 
mon with the culture which at that time was in process of 
development. I do not wish to make the assertion that 
non-believers or even decided agnostics are very numer- 
ous among the humanists of the fifteenth and sixteenth 
centuries in Italy. There are some, however, and most of 
them are careful to begin their works with highly edify- 
ing invocations to God or the Virgin or to some notable 
saint, but this is only the false front which ill conceals the 
disrespect within. Let an opportunity arise and the real 
sentiments of these men are acknowledged, for some of 


them have the courage of their convictions. Of these was 
Vanini, born in 1586, who helped to popularize the ideas 
of the Paduan school of Pompanazzi and Cremonini. He 
won great success in France at the court of Marie de 
Medicis at the beginning of the seventeenth century, 
among young people who were amused by his cutting 
remarks in regard to orthodox dogmas and practices. 
To us this same Vanini appears in the character of an 
adventurer ; he ended his days at Toulouse in 1919 at the 
hands of the executioner as a dangerous heretic, and died 
cursing Jesus as "the wretched Jew who was the cause 
of his torment. " Thus, it is plain that, at least among 
these Paduan followers of Plato, free thought at full tide 
is circulating under traditional guise. And it is not con- 
fined to a small number of isolated adherents, for two of 
its members, Jerome Cardan (1501-1576) and Vanini 
himself, carried these ideas into France, and a recent 
inquiry has discovered that they are at the bottom of the 
bold statements made by the French libertines of the 
seventeenth century. Still more certain does it seem that 
all the humanists of Italy were at best of a modernist 
frame of mind with regard to the Church, which means 
that they perceived more or less sharply the impossibility 
of making the official belief, in the forms in which the 
Church imposed it upon them, conform with their general 
culture. The greater number of them, given over to 
indifferentism, took no interest in the problem, but some 
tried to solve it by seeking the formula of adaptation, of 
interpretation and of a syncretism that would square the 
two, just as modernists of all ages have done. This is a 
form of procedure which the Church dreads more than a 
direct frontal attack by a downright heresy. 

Consider Marsiglio Ficino (1433-1499), for instance. 
He is regarded, and so regards himself, as a champion of 
Christianity. He pretends to combat the Averroist 
materialism and the unbelief of the paganizing writers; 
he admires Savonarola ; but he worships Plato just as he 
does Christ. Not content with keeping a lamp always 
burning before the image of the Greek philosopher, and 

370 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

trying to live in Florence as he imagined his master to 
have lived in the gardens of Academos, he maintains that 
no contradiction exists between Plato's wisdom and the 
truths of Scripture. And he endeavors to prove his case 
by undertaking once again the " tendency" style of 
exegesis formerly attempted by Philo and by all Platoniz- 
ing Christians after him. He exerts himself, for instance, 
to prove the reality of the Redemption by arguments 
worthy of an Alexandrine sophist. Moreover, he is per- 
suaded that all the thinkers of antiquity have been 
prophets of the Truth, and that the religion of the pagans 
itself, in spite of embarrassing appearances, has not been, 
as the Church commonly believes, devil worship, but 
really at bottom the worship of the true God whom the 
Christians adore. He believes in astrology and, like the 
Neoplatonists referred to previously, Plotinus and 
Jamblicus, he looks to contemplation and ecstatic com- 
munion for the solution of the great problems of meta- 
physics. To such a mind, exactly what is Christian faith, 
if not one element in a complex syncretism — and nothing 
more? Were the great masters of the gnosis of the 
second century, a Valentinus or a Basilides, any the less 
good Christians than this man? In truth it is a matter 
of little import that Ficino should have taken orders at 
forty-two, and have become a canon. 

Ficino 's example is not a solitary instance. The 
famous Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494) intends to 
remain entirely faithful to the Church's teaching; yet he, 
too, is thoroughly infected with Neoplatonism, and he 
tries confidently to harmonize his Christian faith with 
his respect for ancient philosophy, his Bible with the 
modern spirit. " Philosophy," he used to say, "seeks the 
truth, theology finds it, religion possesses it"; but he was 
putting his trust in an illusion which experience hardly 
confirms, in proclaiming this harmony between human 
knowledge and the revelation from which religion derives 
its authority. 

Thus even the Italian humanistic writers who believe 
they can support their Christianity by the aid of antique 


culture, really find in it only a very dangerous ally. It is 
said that some of them were thinking seriously of getting 
Plato canonized, and ventured to make overtures to the 
Pope in the matter, and this aberration shows us the 
extent of their illusion. 

Pico della Mirandola himself affords us a living proof 
of the equivocal position in which the humanists of his 
kind may stop and remain, quite in good faith. Does he 
not one day undertake to placard fourteen hundred 
theses or propositions in Eome, and declare himself 
ready to defend them all 1 Among these we find declara- 
tions that Christ did not actually descend into Hell ; that 
mortal sin, since it is committed in a limited time, cannot 
be visited with eternal punishment, and other heterodox 
audacities of the same order, which their author soon 
found it prudent to renounce for his own security or at 
least to profess to do so. Consider, too, the illustrious 
Neapolitan doctor Telesio of Cosenza (1508-1588). A 
passionate advocate of experimental science, he firmly 
believes (and in good faith, I am sure) that it can never 
conflict with orthodoxy, but his study of the universe, mat- 
ter, and the fundamental problems of cosmology ends in 
abuse of Aristotle, and his arrival at a form of thorough 
finalism which scarcely leaves a place for Providence. 
He also confesses to singularly subversive opinions 
regarding the nature and destiny of the soul. Finally 
consider the French writer Pierre Charron (1541-1603), 
the author of that Traite de la Sagesse which has been 
regarded as a kind of breviary of scepticism and atheism. 
He assuredly desired to make it something quite the con- 
trary, but what imprudence for a Christian to confess that 
all religions ' * adduce revelations, apparitions, prophecies, 
miracles, prodigies and sacred mysteries, that they may 
get themselves valued and accepted!" How dangerous 
the penetration which could see effects of the influences 
of time, country, and milieu in all these religions! Is 
there not risk also that these conclusions, designed to 
overwhelm the false religions, may recoil and strike the 
true? And how perilous the concession that the sage's 

372 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

duty is to serve God with heart and soul! What 
becomes then of the magisterium of the Church and all its 
devotional setting? All such statements contain a leaven 
of unbelief extremely dangerous to the Catholic faith, 
and, to repeat, the sincere effort made by the men who 
utter them to convince themselves that they are quite 
harmless rests for support upon an illusion. 

The fact that many a Pope shares this illusion more or 
less is responsible for the surprising spectacle the Church 
presents in protecting humanism and in showing its most 
compromising adherents an indulgence, even a benevo- 
lence, which we are not accustomed to find in the habits 
of Rome. If Eugenius IV condemns and prosecutes 
Lorenzo Valla, Nicholas V (1447-1455) receives him 
kindly and appoints him to the chair of rhetoric in Rome 
itself. Pico della Mirandola is an object of suspicion to 
Innocent VIII, who orders a commission to investigate 
him, and he feels obliged to escape by flight from the pos- 
sible consequences; a Bull of Alexander VI acquits him 
(1494) in consideration of a kind of retraction by him. 
There is nothing to prove that this repentance is not sin- 
cere moreover, since the penitent is thinking, so the story 
goes, of entering the Dominican order when death over- 
takes him, and the Holy Virgin favors him with an 
apparition in his last hours. 

The pontifical city itself, toward the middle of the 
fifteenth century, shelters an important center of human- 
ists, who form an Academy with Pomponio Leto, one of 
their number, as their leader. Several of them are 
employed by the Pope in the College of Abbreviators 
charged with the editing of the papal bulls. They seem to 
have been somewhat lacking in the end in prudence and 
discretion; so much so, that in the time of Paul II (1464- 
1471), they are accused of plotting against the lives of 
some of the priests in Rome, and even that of the Pontiff 
himself. Paul II considered it necessary to deal harshly 
with them. The most important members of the Academy 
were imprisoned or banished, after they had been tor- 
tured. They found a welcome in Florence and, some 


years after, Sixtus IV, Paul II 's successor, recalled them. 
Was not Poggio one of the papal secretaries under eight 
different Popes and for more than half a century? He, 
too, is not the only one whose presence in such a position 
is surprising. What are we to think of the selection as 
a pontifical secretary under Eugenius IV of Carlo Mar- 
suppini (who died in 1553), who refused the sacra- 
ments upon his deathbed? The cardinals follow the 
Pope 's example and maintain the most familiar relations 
with the men and the ideas and sometimes even with the 
morals of this revival of antiquity. 

This does not mean that nobody in the Church of Italy 
realized the risk run by traditional religion through this 
promiscuous intercourse of the superior clergy with 
humanism. The mendicant orders, the Dominicans and 
Franciscans, who were as a rule abused by the humanists, 
reciprocated the animosity and denounced them from the 
very beginning of the fifteenth century. They especially 
charged them bitterly with giving the young an education 
which was pagan rather than Christian. This protest 
was echoed by the people upon whom the Kenascence had 
no effect, but it scarcely went beyond the point of protest. 
It needed an exceptional personality and favoring cir- 
cumstances for it to assume, as it did in Florence under 
the influence of the Dominican Savonarola (1452-1498), 
the appearance of a violent reaction against the new 

Savonarola was a monk with a medieval training, full 
of the spirit of St. Thomas Aquinas and an impassioned 
disciple of the Book of Eevelation. A visionary and an 
apostle by temperament, an ardent soul, an emotional and 
vehement preacher, he gained great influence over the 
people of Florence in the troublous times which preceded 
the expedition of Charles VIII. For eight years, begin- 
ning in 1490, he exercised an extraordinary influence over 
the entire city. He stirred it up to a considerable 
improvement in its public morals, to a reaction against the 
pagan spirit in art, and a revival of religious practices ; he 
was even able to impose his democratic tendencies upon 

374 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

the Signoria. With success his hopes grew to embrace a 
dream of reforming Rome and the Pope also. It must be 
owned that the occupancy of St. Peter's throne by Alex- 
ander Borgia fully accounted for and justified this desire. 
Unfortunately he could not realize it without entering 
into political combinations which were very hazardous. 
He felt forced to rely upon the help of Charles VIII, "the 
new Cyrus," as he called him, whose presence was soon 
to become speedily unbearable to the Italians, and to 
appeal to the populace, a proceeding which made him 
appear to be the enemy of the princes in a country where 
they were masters. It was necessary for him to attack 
the Pope and the curia directly, to denounce private scan- 
dals, and lay stress upon the disgraceful morals and the 
insolence of the corruption practiced in Rome. In the 
end he had to resort once more to the bugbear of advo- 
cating a new General Council, and the restoration of the 
spirit of Constance and of Basle. All this Savonarola 
ventured to do, and in doing it he made use of such 
forcible methods and such intemperate language that he 
alienated the sympathies of all the high Church digni- 
taries, including even the superior of his own order. The 
Pope issued a decree of excommunication; the Signoria 
of Florence took fright and forbade the reformer to 
preach. The Franciscans — manifesting as usual the 
rivalry of the two orders — rose up against him and 
offered to put the reality of his mission to the proof by a 
direct appeal to the judgment of God. He appeared to 
shrink from this test, and the people themselves, hitherto 
his best ally, abandoned him. The effort he made to 
recover his ascendancy over them by entering the pulpit 
in defiance of the authorities, ultimately ruined him. He 
was seized, imprisoned, hanged and then burnt, as were 
two other monks at the same time who had made common 
cause with him. 

From the fact that Savonarola talked of reforming the 
clergy, and that he was a monk, some have tried to see in 
him the forerunner of Luther. Nothing is further from 
the truth. Savonarola was a reformer in the spirit of the 


Middle Ages and not at all in that of the Renascence. His 
efforts constitute the most energetic and the best sus- 
tained attempt to stem the tide of humanism ever made 
in the Italy of that period. The variety of the interests 
which instinctively combine to oppose them proves better 
than aught else how far they had already become 
anachronisms. While the official philosophy of the 
Schools, which was always that of the Church, presented 
the most formidable of intellectual obstacles to advancing 
intelligence, in reality that philosophy was not sufficiently 
powerful to withstand successfully the mounting assault 
against it. We know that in the end it became impreg- 
nated, at least in the Sorbonne, with the nominalism of 
William of Ockham, but we know too that its originator 
himself had not foreseen all the possible bearings of this 
rejuvenation. He had been unable or had not dared to 
draw from his own fundamental statements their full 
logical consequences, which would then have pointed to a 
highly interesting orientation toward modern empiri- 
cism. The foremost among William of Ockham's 
disciples did not display more boldness or more per- 
spicacity than their master, and even the rebirth of 
experimental science did not reveal to them the intimate 
bond which united the principles of their system with the 
verified results of experience. On the contrary, they laid 
stress upon the fideism fundamental to William of Ock- 
ham, and following his lead, put a new emphasis upon 
their confidence in the impregnable solidity of revealed 

The training of theologians, instead of broadening with 
the advance of general culture, was deplorably restricted. 
It may be said that its foundations were laid upon the 
study of the Bible, pursued by the old Scholastic methods, 
in total ignorance of any scientific preoccupation, and, 
even, at bottom, indifferent about questions of accuracy in 
the text. Its next dependence was upon Peter Lombard 's 
Book of Sentences, of the middle of the twelfth century. 
This work was without a trace of originality, a little and 
fairly convenient encyclopedia dealing with all the prob- 

376 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

lems of Christian dogma. To it were added some 
medieval compilations of the same kind, and some of 
Aristotle's treatises, reputed to contain the whole of 
philosophy and of science, which were read in very feeble 
Latin translations, or even replaced by the commentaries 
of Averroes. It was a wholly superficial and formal 
training, wordy and sterile, inflexible and obsolete, devoid 
of any real thought. That is why the new spirit reacted 
especially against it at the beginning of the sixteenth 
century, even in the countries in which Scholasticism had 
made its fortune, as in France and Germany. The 
Church supported it, because empty dialectics, even if 
they were at bottom really hostile to true religious life, 
seemed to constitute a security against discussion of 
dogma and heterodox exegesis. Thomism bore within 
itself capable elements of services which were much more 
living than this nominalism, which regarded any state- 
ment of faith as something intangible and therefore 
impossble of discussion. The only question debated with 
some eagerness was the question of the Immaculate Con- 
ception, and this was done in response to popular 


The moment that the humanist movement takes shape 
in France the Sorbonne, as a body, takes a stand against 
it. With the vigorous support of the regular clergy it is 
prepared to justify and even to demand the enforcement 
of all the secular restrictions which may stay the course of 
the innovators. Without delay it adopts an attitude of 
obstinacy which puts a ban on all temporizing, but in 
spite of its intention to be hostile, it cannot wholly guard 
itself from modernist infiltrations. In the latter half of 
the fifteenth century Guillaume Fichet, and then Robert 
Gagnin, introduce and sow the seed of Italian humanism 
in the University of Paris. They and their pupils are 
Christians at heart and intend to remain orthodox ones, 
but in spite of themselves their culture alienates them 
from medieval theological tradition which is still identi- 


fied (although they deny it) with dogmatic truth. Lefevre 
d'Etaples (1455-1536) undertakes to prove that the 
Schoolmen have never understood nor even known the 
true Aristotle, and this is depriving Scholasticism, 
indeed, of its main support in philosophy. Petrus Ramus 
will go further still; he will eliminate Aristotle and 
Scholasticism itself entirely. Who can be surprised 
therefore that a group of learned Christians soon is 
formed around Lefevre d'Etaples, among whom gen- 
erate and very quickly develop projects for the reform 
of the Christian life, on a different scale and of a more 
profound aspect, and quite other general importance, 
than the plans and program of the doctors of Basle? It 
is in the circle of these well-intentioned but still undecided 
men that Calvin was trained, the man who will reduce 
their tendencies to clear statements and systematize and 
realize them. 

In Germany and in the Netherlands there are also 
humanists who desire their respect for the Church and 
established tradition to continue. They practice as best 
they can the method of keeping their culture and their 
faith in sealed compartments, which in all ages has been 
the final resource of men who dread troublesome 
encounters between them. Moreover, hesitations and 
doubts in any but the earlier German scholars with 
regard to the great problems of conscience in their days 
are scarcely to be found, and they have been under the 
Italian influence. The generation following continues to 
be interested in religious questions, but in quite another 
spirit, and if their conclusions are sometimes lacking in 
logic, they do not shrink from the most venturesome 
searchings of conscience. In 1516 the Epistolae obscuro- 
rum virorum, published by Ulrich von Hutten and several 
other humanists, for the purpose of crushing the monks 
and castigating the abuses of the clergy, begin to appear. 
At first the Dominicans try, in the Lamentationes 
obscurorum virorum, to answer them, but as their success 
does not come up to their expectations, they try to reach 
their anonymous adversaries by law court measures still 

378 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

open to them. Unfortunately they make a mistake and 
incriminate Eeuchlin, who is not in any way involved, and 
conduct a lawsuit against him destined to turn out to their 
own disadvantage, since the Pope Leo X will finally 
acquit Eeuchlin, and order them to pay the costs. 

To tell the truth, the light does not yet shine clearly in 
the minds of these men, often so learned, and their bold- 
ness in particular instances as well as in their general 
tendencies is subject to timidities which surprise us. A 
case in point is Erasmus, in his Praise of Folly, which 
seems to be furthering the same design as the Epistolae 
just spoken of above. He criticizes the monks very 
severely, and it has been rightly said that the great task 
of his life was to free the minds of his contemporaries 
from the tyranny of superstition and the constraint of a 
narrow dogmatism, to prepare for the reign of a wide 
and liberal culture, and the advent of a purified and sim- 
plified Christanity. Yet he was neither an unbeliever nor 
even an agnostic; he does not seem disposed to reject a 
single article of the creed as defined by the authority of 
the Church, and still less to disavow that authority. It 
must be understood that his attitude and his public state- 
ments evidence a prudent reserve, only too well justified 
by the dangerous intolerance of the Church, but at bot- 
tom and indubitable sincerity finds expression in them. 

These men dare to criticize and scoff at institutions and 
individuals; they can estimate the distance separating 
examples of both from the essential principles and rules 
of religion, but their disrespect and hardihood stop 
short at the Scriptures and the great dogmatic assertions 
of faith. The Christian tradition of the Middle Ages still 
holds them under its hypnotizing influence and it is their 
innocence of this condition which explains why they seem 
to us constantly to be so little self -consistent. 

Let not the fact drop out of sight that Sir Thomas 
More, the chief representative of humanism in England, 
the friend of Erasmus, in whose home The Praise of 
Folly was written, refused to countenance the schism 
of Henry VIII, and remained, cost what it might, firmly 


attached to the Catholic Church, paying for his devotion 
with his life, in 1535. Eabelais, to be sure, detested the 
Sorbonne, Scholasticism, and the monks. He found fault 
with the Eoman Church for taking on the aspect of a 
political enterprise and trying to bend all men to the 
practice of its automatic worship.* Again he loved nature 
and life, held Man and his reasoning faculty in high 
esteem, perceived the dignity of science and of a freely 
chosen course of conduct as well as of tolerance, all of 
them sentiments which it would be difficult to maintain 
are essentially Christian. Nevertheless, it would be a 
mistake to think that Rabelais was a sceptic prepared 
for all kinds of doctrinal concessions. Of a different cast 
of mind or, if you prefer it, of a different temperament 
from Erasmus, he would undoubtedly have been one with 
him concerning the dignity and the necessary role of the 
Christian religion. And the point of view of Montaigne 
himself is certainly not very dissimilar. 

It remains true that unconsciously or otherwise, all 
these humanists, and, at heart, those who were best 
inclined toward the Church likewise, were building up 
among educated men (the number of whom increased 
daily) a state of mind unfavorable alike to Roman curia, 
pontificalism, medievalism, the clerical economy and the 
formulas of dogmatism, and the prison-like narrowness 
of Catholic forejudgment based on its claim to enclose all 
intellectual and moral as well as all religious life within 
its own boundaries. In short, the Christianity that per- 
sisted with them was really modernism, which demanded 
a setting for their religion framed in the terms of their 

The most serious menace to the integrity of traditional 
faith produced by this renascence of intellectual life was 
not simply its return to the literature and thought and 

* He maintained that "the greatest dream of the world was to regu- 
late oneself by the sound of a church bell, and not by the dictates of 
common sense and intelligence" (Oargantua i. 52). 

380 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

feeling of antiquity; it had also revived the true 
scientific spirit which verbal dialectics had lulled to rest 
in the course of the Middle Ages. The sense of observa- 
tion and experiment known to the Greeks reappeared 
once more in every branch of science. 

Note has already been taken how greatly the geographi- 
cal discoveries of the fifteenth century, abruptly enlarging 
the inhabited world, the Oikoumeme of the ancients, had 
already upset Christian ideas about mankind. In demon- 
strating that the earth was a sphere, they had proved the 
existence of the Antipodes, in the face of the fact that the 
absolute repudiation of their existence was an article of 
faith for the Inquisition, and its affirmation, mortal 
heresy. They also gave a rude shock to the ancient cos- 
mography sponsored by Aristotle and Ptolemy, hitherto 
deemed infallible, in that by laying classical geography 
low, they cast suspicion, for reflective minds, upon the 
geocentric representation of the world and the system of 
translucent spheres which, it was believed, revolved 
around the earth, bearing in their train the four primor- 
dial elements, the planets and the stars. From the third 
century b.c. a few Greek scientists, notably Hiketas and 
Aristarchus of Samos, had indeed admitted that the sun 
was the center of the world. This same Aristarchus and 
after him, Seleucus the Babylonian, were of opinion that 
the earth revolved around the sun, but the opposition of 
the Stoics and the Alexandrine School had caused these 
''impious" conjectures to be forgotten. Copernicus 
(1473-1543) returned to them, and his theory of helio- 
centricity, although he dared not present it as anything 
but a mere hypothesis, marks the starting-point of mod- 
ern astronomy. The Church was greatly stirred by it, 
and justly so, for it was not easy to reconcile with 
Biblical cosmography, or with the miracle performed by 
Joshua, or even with the established antithesis in prin- 
ciple between the sky and the earth, between the finiteness 
of the world and the Divine infinity. Where then is God's 
dwelling-place if the stars circulate throughout space, 


and what distinguishes the universe from God, if the uni- 
verse be, like God, infinite? Readjustments became com- 
pulsory, a business to which theology never resigned 
itself willingly, or immediately. 

And it was not astronomy alone which made theology 
uneasy, and disturbed its hold upon the world. All the 
exact and the experimental sciences wakened from sleep 
too, and they were all destined inevitably to become its 
enemies, since it had reasons of its own to suspect and to 
oppose them all. The theologians had been imprudent 
enough to let the scientific ideas of the Bible and of the 
Fathers mingle with the metaphysical assertions of dogma 
and in the resulting conglomerate they were practically 
indistinguishable. The doctrine of the inerrancy of the 
Bible, resting for support, practically speaking, as it did 
upon the inerrancy of St. Thomas Aquinas, necessarily 
placed theology in an attitude of surly and sanguinary 
hostility toward the exact and experimental sciences, 
which it will not abandon save most reluctantly and after 
as much delay as possible. It would be a difficult conten- 
tion to maintain that theology has not retained something 
of this attitude even to the present day: methods have 
changed, the illusions still current have decreased, but 
its spirit is scarcely altered. 

Leonardo da Vinci, that prodigy who showed himself a 
master in everything that he undertook, may be regarded 
as the most amazing scientist of the Renascence. Modern 
science has been established upon his very principles. 
These are: not to stop short at appearances and mere 
words, but to proceed to facts, and to reason from experi- 
ment only, that is, from observations made for the pur- 
pose ; not to confuse the deductions of the scientist with 
the speculative constructions of the metaphysician; not 
to fall down in adoration before the writings of the 
ancients, but to test and examine and correct them, moved 
by a persuasion that science is the child of her age, and 
belongs to the future and not to the past. It is no cause 
for surprise to find that with such ideas Leonardo does 

382 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

not prize Scholasticism highly, but irreverently compares 
the dialecticians entangled in their syllogisms to spiders 
caught in their own webs. We do not wonder either that 
in the pretension of the occult sciences he sees only the 
work of charlatans or fools. Still more interesting ought 
it to be to us to discover what such a man thinks of the 
religion practiced around him. His attitude is always 
correct; at no time does he adopt the demeanor of an 
unbeliever, and he seems indeed to have made a very 
edifying end. Nothing, however, should be read into all 
these concessions to Christian propriety beyond the com- 
pliances of a man who is anxious to avoid exposing his 
inner life and solicitous in that matter to keep his 
thought hidden. While no reason exists to believe that he 
was not a sincere and ardent Deist, so much derision 
is encountered in his writings of the monks, the saints, 
the Virgin, the sacramental rites (especially confession 
and communion), the religious festivals, not excepting 
those which commemorate the great mystery of the 
Passion, that the conclusion is rendered inevitable that he 
was no longer Catholic, nor even Christian, at heart. 
Science had slain whatever orthodoxy he possessed. This 
supplies the proof that the Roman Church was not lack- 
ing in penetration in organizing at the very start an 
opposition, certainly vain, but obstinate, which moreover 
had little choice of ways and means against science and 
the scientific spirit. She had divined her most dangerous 

A whole world of thought agitates the age which wit- 
nesses the spread of humanism, a seething and confused 
world wherein widely dissimilar currents of philosophy 
and religion intersect or combine or counteract one 
another. It is a world, moreover, big with the future, 
even when it endeavors to fashion that future by running 
it into the molds of the past. The most illustrious of 
these men, like Luther, Melancthon, Theodore de Beze, 
Justus Lipsius, Ambroise Pare, and Giordano Bruno, still 
believe in all the enchantments of sorcery, and that they 
are surrounded by swarms of its tools. And yet these 


same men, almost without knowing and certainly without 
desiring it, are preparing and announcing the complete 
emancipation of the human mind and the triumph of 
reason over superstition. They continue plunged up 
to their neck and shoulders into the gloomy shadows of 
the Middle Ages, but their foreheads are aglow with the 
dawn of modern times. 



The influence of humanism on religious thought and 
feeling gave birth to the Protestant reform, which it is 
convenient to call the Reformation, in order to distinguish 
it from the Catholic movement in reaction to it, the 
results of which were registered by the Council of Trent. 
It made its first appearance in those countries which had 
recently shown the most marked desire for the redress of 
Church abuses, but it very soon extended its scope beyond 
the too superficial demands of the Councils of Constance 
and Basle, because it fell into step with the tradition of 
John Wyclif, John Huss and Jerome of Prague. Had 
the Reformers proposed to the sincere believers among 
the masses only the abolition of the Roman abuses, their 
work would not have assumed the aspect nor acquired 
the import which it did. Without a suspicion even on 
their part, their protest against indulgences, simony, and 
the superstitions which were an encumbrance to the faith, 
constituted but the first indispensable step, and did not 
attain the end mapped out in their plans, sincerely as 
they avowed their intention to return to evangelical 
Christianity and to aid in the hatching of a religion 
responsive to fresh needs and fresh desires. Luther, 
Zwingli and Calvin were humanists and at the same time 
fervently pious souls. As soon as they brought their 
culture to bear upon their faith, they found themselves 
inevitably drawn to separate from Rome and reject the 
conception of religion which she represented. 

1 H. Hermelink, Reformation mid Gegenreformation (the third volume 
of the Handbuch der Kirchengeschichte, by G. Kriiger, published in 
Tubingen in 1911), gives a clear account and a very complete 



Not all the humanists who remained Christians adopted 
the Protestant Eeformation: their final principles of 
orientation were a matter of temperament, circum- 
stance and especially of milieu. Luther's task, for 
instance, had long been going through its preparatory 
stages in Germany and the Netherlands. Nevertheless 
all of them, no longer satisfied by the official teaching 
of the Church, were seeking to readjust the Christian 
faith to their religious needs and to the mentality with 
which their culture had equipped them. They all desired 
to get rid of the religious forms of the Middle Ages, and 
they all agreed at least in distrusting sterile formulas, 
in aspiring after a religion intimately bound up with 
their inner life, a religion which looks for its justification 
to their personal experience. God himself is, to Calvin, 
an acquisition of experience. 


Yet if the Eeformation had been only the attempt of a 
few Christians transformed by the new learning to make 
their faith conform to the new demands of their intel- 
lectual life, it would undoubtedly not have carried very 
far; but in the early sixteenth century this undertaking 
of the intellectuals encountered certain conditions natu- 
rally favorable to it, which were destined to extend and 
shape it. 

The Pope had not accomplished the improvements in 
Church practice which the most enlightened among the 
faithful had so long demanded of him and in the four- 
teenth and fifteenth centuries sought to impose upon him. 
This was not, moreover, because these improvements 
were no longer needed. As a matter of fact, they had 
never appeared more necessary than at the time the pre- 
Reform agitation begins. The States-General of Tours in 
1484 presents these reforms as the prayer of the whole 
of France, asserting that the clergy "who should be the 
pattern, example and mirror for others" lag far behind 
the pious laity, and do not even discharge their duties 

386 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

honestly. The evil is not confined to France, or the 
negligence to ecclesiastical functions. Many of the 
clergy are not resident in their charge. They hunt about 
for benefices, or they lead scandalous lives. The superior 
clergy lead a life of luxury and opulence up to the extent 
of their ability, in conformity with the example set by 
Rome. They despise the lesser clergy, who usually run 
to seed — those in the country at any rate — through 
poverty and ignorance. At the end of the fifteenth cen- 
tury it is matter of record that even in the diocese of 
Paris the country clergy are scarcely able to celebrate 
the rites and administer the sacraments correctly; they 
appear to be incapable of preaching, and are accustomed 
instead to mumble bad sermons composed by nobody 
knows whom, devoid of sound doctrine and full of 
ridiculous fables. 

Certain Catholic writers of our own day confess that 
the condition of the clergy was degraded but think them- 
selves to be justifying this state of affairs by saying that 
it corresponded to that of the laity at that time, on the 
principle that, in the main, people always get the 
religion and the church they deserve. This is so, and it 
cannot be denied that society in the fifteenth and at the 
beginning of the sixteenth centuries seems very corrupt, 
judging by its upper classes, and that the religion of the 
lower classes appears very uncouth. Nevertheless the 
conclusion indicated is that the Church is largely respon- 
sible for this depravity and superstition, upon ascer- 
taining that the demand of the Inquisition for orthodoxy 
can be satisfied with its appearance only, and that crimes 
and sins are of little ecclesiastical importance save as 
they represent a fruitful source of revenue for the ven- 
dors of absolution. The virtuous heretic mounts the 
scaffold and takes his departure; the corrupt orthodox 
Churchman confesses and pays; God and the Church 
both ought to be satisfied with this reckoning. Nor is 
the dissoluteness of the laity responsible for the narrow- 
mindedness and the nonsense of the theologians who, for 
instance, can raise a dispute in the Sorbonne with Ramus, 


and be serious about it, over the pronunciation of 
quisquam and quamquam, and in the course of it assert 
that to question their manners of saying the words 
amounts to an offense against religion. 

No more do the laity force the clergy in order that they 
may get Heaven itself to justify the sale and the efficacy 
of indulgences, to devise abominable farces like those 
which create a scandal in the reign of Francis L Do not 
one of the King's almoners and a doctor of the Sorbonne 
contrive the apparition, in a badly conducted convent— 
that of the Nuns of St. Peter at Lyons — of the ghost of a 
sister who fled from the nunnery to live a gay life and 
came to a miserable end f As a penitent beyond the grave, 
she confides in a nun admired up to that time for her 
"simplicity," and offers publicly under the direction of 
a bishop the most reassuring testimony respecting the 
existence of purgatory and the marvelous virtue pos- 
sessed by indulgences in opening wide its gates. 
Throughout France the story obtains a publicity profit- 
able to its disseminators. It is not the only one of its 
kind in circulation at that time, and the clergy abuse the 
popular credulity by turning these ghostly apparitions 
and other devilries to their own advantage. Some of 
them are so notorious as to attract the attention of the 
secular courts, and so badly executed that the fraud is 
detected and severely punished. 

It is, however, noteworthy that the laxity of morals, 
clergy and lay, does not usually go as far as to impair 
the faith. Popular piety at the end of the fifteenth cen- 
tury still remains very vital and profound ; pilgrimages 
still attract crowds; sacred dramas are followed by 
audiences with as much assiduity and emotion as before ; 
religious brotherhoods increase in number; edifying 
books find many purchasers, and much interest is felt in 
the current prophecies which announce that Constanti- 
nople is about to be restored to Christendom again. The 
very desire for the reform of the Church and of Christian 
morals, which was shared often by those most in need of 
reform themselves, would suffice to prove how deeply 

388 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

Christian sentiment, in the form given to it by Western 
tradition, still permeates human life. If an eloquent 
monk ascends the pulpit to speak, he is sure of a respon- 
sive audience quite ready to translate into acts and ges- 
tures of reform the advice he gives them. Mention has 
already been made of Girolamo Savonarola, who for sev- 
eral years controlled the conscience of Florence; in the 
second half of the fifteenth century Olivier Maillard and 
Jean Eaulin (to restrict the choice to the best known) 
obtain in France a renown not equal of course to the 
authority of the Italian Dominican, but enough to insure 
them substantial influence. In language which is homely 
and vigorous, they never weary of addressing stern 
invectives to the assembled faithful against the clerical 
abuses, indulgences, the vices of Eome, and of calling 
loudly for the needed reforms. These two men are not, 
properly speaking, humanists, but zealous members of 
the clergy, trained in Scholastic philosophy, who possess 
some knowledge of the humanities. 

The Pope moreover, although he drew back himself 
from the formidable task of reform, had not frowned 
upon the many individual efforts to effect partial 
improvements at any rate in the Church. It must how- 
ever be owned that these efforts were either unsuccessful, 
or proved too restricted, or failed to gain the sympathies 
of the people. 

In the course of the fifteenth century several monastic 
orders endeavored to reform themselves from within; 
first of all, the Clunisians and, following them, the Cister- 
cians and the Mendicant orders. The order of Minor 
Friars, founded by the celebrated Calabrian hermit, St. 
Francis of Paulos (1416-1507), set others the example of a 
fervor entirely fresh and a stringent rule of life strictly 
followed. Nevertheless the few results obtained are 
scarcely lasting. As soon as the eve of the Protestant 
Reformation, this superficial renovation of con- 
vents is become no more than a memory for most 
of them, and they have sunk once more into those deceit- 


ful semblances of regulated religious life beneath which 
all sorts of individual fantasies and disorders can develop 
at ease, to say nothing of the interminable and scandalous 
quarrels between the orders. Yet once more the reform 
of the monasteries has been a failure. Moreover its suc- 
cess, even were it lasting, would not have solved the prob- 
lem confronting the Church, any more than did the edify- 
ing asceticism of some remarkable university men of 
Paris, such as Quentin and Standouck. It would indeed 
no longer have sufficed for a few isolated individuals to 
lead an exemplary life in the world or outside it ; it was 
a question, as already has been said, of a complete revi- 
sion of the faith and the administration of the Church. 

The great heretics Wyclif, Huss, Jerome of Prague, 
for instance, had realized this, and they had boldly 
started out upon the path which the masters of the Refor- 
mation will tread in their turn. But in the day of these 
forerunners the time was not yet ripe for the accomplish- 
ment of their aim. It was for that reason they failed to 
draw forth the general assent which alone could insure 
the triumph of their ideas. After their deaths, however, 
the opinions of many thoughtful Christians developed 
rapidly in the direction of these ideas. First this was 
due to the persistence of the evil and the impotence of the 
Church in regard to its cure, which forced them to search 
for more drastic remedies than the feeble local applica- 
tions employed by the Church. Another cause was the 
invention of printing and the greater knowledge of the 
Bible a that followed, which inevitably altered the whole 
appearance of Christianity in the minds of those who 
applied themselves to the work of study and comprehen- 
sion and comparison. And lastly it was due to changes in 
the methods and direction of the studies in the schools 
that were educating a generation strongly disinclined to 

8 Between 1450 and 1517 more than twenty complete editions of the 
entire Vulgate appear in Germany ; more than thirty in Italy, and half 
a score in France. At the same time translations into the vulgar tongue 
are produced nearly everywhere, as well as commentaries which try at 
least to explain the literal meaning of the Book. 

390 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

accept the medieval spirit which had presided over the 
organization of the official Church and, consequently, 
directed the systematizing of the orthodox doctrine. 


Accordingly when Luther chose the question of indul- 
gences as his starting-point because the abuse of them 
by Rome current at that time specially excited his reform- 
ing zeal, he found himself from the first swept along 
much more quickly and carried much further undoubtedly 
than he desired. This was an inevitable consequence 
both of the preparation for his mission that had gone on 
in his milieu and the kindred attempts which preceded 
his own. To criticize indulgences and their justification 
and do so thoroughly was bound to bring up, whether one 
would or no, the entire problem of pontificalism. For 
the solution of that problem it was necessary to go back 
in Church tradition far beyond the limits of the Middle 
Ages and picture Christendom without a Pope. The 
Roman Pontiff, meanwhile, took a firm stand against the 
German monk who in his own person at once became, 
without any wish on his part, the rallying point of all 
the ideas hostile to the Roman clergy, as well as all the 
desires for reform spread throughout Germany, and from 
that moment the contest took on a wider significance. It 
was now like a contest over a general verification of the 
rights of Rome and the claims of orthodoxy, and the seed 
already sown by Wyclif and Huss sprang into vigorous 
life almost everywhere in the Teutonic countries, and soon 
afterwards in France. Logic and the tradition, thus 
recovered of the Christianity of the past, both gave it 
their endorsement. 

At the same time the Reformers realized the impossi- 
bility in their days of getting rid of the sexual problem 
imposed upon them by the dissolute morals of the clergy, 
by recourse to the solution of asceticism (that is, by virtue 
of the Roman theory of celibacy). So they adopted a solu- 
tion which brought them back once more to the origins 


of the Church, and permitted priests to marry. Upon 
this point Kome has never yielded, not only because she 
felt herself bound by the many pontifical decisions against 
nicolaism and the marriage of her clergy, but still more 
and chiefly because a very sure instinct warned her of the 
jeopardy into which her domination would be thrown by 
the abandonment of canonical celibacy. Her resistance, 
meanwhile, drove into the camp of the Eeformers a 
notable group of her own soldiers. And thus by degrees 
the quarrel between the Reformers and Rome grew to be 
a resumption and, as it were, a recapitulation of all the 
controversies of the past with regard to the government, 
the general management, and the spirit of the Church. 

On the other hand, in a day when social foundations 
were still Christian, and the entire social order seemed 
to be ruled, held together and maintained by the Church, 
to question her rule and claim to make the Bible the rule 
of faith and of Christian life could not fail to bear very 
serious social consequences in its train. It has been very 
rightly observed that every time the masses have taken 
the Book into their own hands and read it, seeking therein 
a pattern for their conduct, and the manual of their 
rights, they have found in it the guiding principle of a 
revolutionary course of action. The proclamation of the 
equality of rights and duties in God seemed to them to 
entail social equality, or at any rate the reproof of 
tyranny and servitude as a matter of course. During 
the fifteenth century and at the beginning of the sixteenth, 
various popular movements had already taken place in 
Germany, express alike of the economic wretchedness, 
oppression, and the religious discontent. In 1525 the 
revolt of Luther in the name of the Gospel awakened a 
mighty echo in vast masses of the peasants, who were 
sustained by a kind of fury in which religious excitement 
and social animosity had an equal share, undoubtedly, 
in causing the terrible excesses of which they were guilty. 

From this point of view nothing is stranger than the 
rise of the Anabaptists of Munster around John of Ley- 
den (1534-1535). These men, violent by nature and 

392 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

athirst for the material enjoyments which hitherto they 
had desired in vain, claimed that they were restoring by 
force a state of society for which they believed they found 
warrant in the Bible. It goes without saying that they 
soon fell into a murderous frenzy. A violent reaction, 
encouraged by Luther himself, was organized without 
delay among the ruling classes against these upheavals 
from below, and in the end the people gained nothing for 
themselves by the transfer of religious authority from the 
Church into the hands of secular rulers, which was the 
principal political and social result of the Reformation 
almost everywhere that it succeeded. And in saying that 
the people gained nothing, the reference is not merely to 
their civil liberty or liberties, to which the religious 
authority of the sovereign (henceforth more direct 
and immediate) simply added yet another constraint; it 
applies to their relgious liberty itself, since it became a 
strict duty for subjects to think and believe as did their 
king on religious questions. Cujus regio hujus religio 
became the current adage of religious politics in the 
Reformed countries. 3 And thus the Reformation failed 
in the work of political and social emancipation which 
seemed to be implied by it, and which the simple-minded 
very reasonably had expected of it, and had endeavored 
in their own way to accomplish. 


The distinctively religious side of its work did not run 
the course expected of it either, at least not the course 
that seems to us today would have been the logical one. 
The mark at which the Reformers in all good faith aimed 
was the restoration of authentic Christianity, but in real- 
ity what they did was to put together doctrinal systems 
more or less novel, of the kind demanded by the men 

8 It was in England under Henry VIII that the religious tyranny of a 
ruler calling himself a reformer displayed itself most impudently ; he 
persecuted and even put to death Catholics as Papists, and Protestants 
as heretics. None were of the truth, nor in safety, unless they rigidly 
adhered to his creed and accepted his pontifical pretensions. 


whose own religious aspirations they personified. They 
established new churches, too, to serve as a setting for 
the religious life of which they dreamed. At bottom, 
their systems and churches both seem to us less free of 
the medieval spirit than their originators believed them 
to be, for it is not at one stroke that one can get rid of 
the past. This work was done by intellectuals, but intel- 
lectuals who were far less advanced in the methods of 
criticism than most of the great Italian humanists. They 
were believers as well as intellectuals, who sought to 
articulate their faith, but not to control its content 
through their reason. On this account they remained 
very conservative with regard to the orthodox system of 
dogmatics, and that is why, too, the simpler-minded, 
although they could not always follow the devious course 
of their arguments well, accepted their conclusions so 
largely. Besides, the way to this acceptance by them had 
been prepared by the slow and steady influence upon their 
minds of the old idea of reform, that had served the 
Eef ormers themselves as a point of departure from which 
to slip by degrees into doctrinal liberties. 

The Reformed churches won adherents in numbers 
that varied with the locality ; it was a matter of individual 
temperament, social conditions and circumstances. These 
local groups, which were somewhat isolated from one 
another in the Latin countries proper, Italy and Spain, 
did not long hold out against the energetic efforts made 
by the Church, aided by the public authorities, to break 
them up. 4 It was quite otherwise in Teutonic countries, 
because a great many of the ruling powers decided that 
it was to their own interest to assist them. France B was 
unequally divided in its allegiance between Calvinism 
and the ancient orthodoxy, and this division soon pro- 
duced, as in Germany, fratricidal conflicts which political 
rivalries complicated and prolonged. 

But the most important point for us to note at the 

* Cf. E. Rodocanachi, La Re'forme en Italie (Paris, 1920-1) ; Herme- 
link, Reformation, p 154 et seq. 

B Hermelink, op cit. p. 157 ; A. Autin, Uechec de la Rtforme en France 
au XVIe siecle (Paris, 1918). 

394 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

moment is that the Protestants never went so far as to 
emancipate themselves entirely from the traditions which 
they ought logically to have rejected. They did not even 
liberate themselves entirely from Scholasticism. Polem- 
ics concerning external and really subsidiary matters 
were thrust upon them by force of circumstances, which 
they could not ward off from their own churches. In 
addition, the various difficulties they encountered, and 
above all, the hypnotic influence which they had not the 
strength to shake off, exerted by a long inheritance of ata- 
vism to which they were subject, all turned them away 
from what appears to us the essential point today: a 
strict and impartial examination of the fundamental pos- 
tulates of the traditional faith. In any case, in order to 
justify the independence shown by them in picking and 
choosing from the doctrinal body of Catholic orthodoxy 
and its system of practices, and in order to establish a 
right to existence for their churches, they laid down a 
fruitful principle, the inevitable consequences of which 
would have appalled them had they foreseen them; this 
principle being that the whole Truth is contained in the 
Scriptures, where everyone may freely seek it. 

All the progress made by scientific criticism in the field 
of Christian history and Christian life proceeds directly 
from this principle of free inquiry. It amounts to nothing 
less than the ruin, previous to any search, of all author- 
itative and all "objective" systems of theology, because 
the Scriptures do not present the truth in the same aspects 
to all their readers, nor with the same degree of certi- 
tude. Very naturally the Eeformers did not understand 
the full emancipative value of this principle of free 
inquiry, which self-preservation had imposed upon them 
far more than they had resorted to it of their own accord. 
This is the reason they barely succeeded in freeing them- 
selves from the mastery of Rome, and explains their con- 
tinued belief in the great traditional dogmatic tenets, 
which they injected into the sacred writings while imag- 
ining that they found them there. This is the reason, too, 


they so often proved to be terrible despots, harsh perse- 
cutors and, judging by reason, far less excusably so than 
the Catholics. But they were not able to put the bars 
up definitely, at whatever points they judged it expedi- 
ent, across the road which they had opened up; the 
future escaped their control, and in the realm of faith 
would go on and develop the enterprise that they them- 
selves had ventured to carry out only in matters of dis- 
cipline and ecclesiology. 

As the most evident outcome of their revolt against 
Eoman tradition they had, to borrow Nietzsche's pictur- 
esque expression, smitten Christianity with hemiplegia, 
that is, cut off one half of the body Christian from the 
service of the brain hitherto common to both parts. And 
after thus shattering Catholic unity, they had dispersed 
those of the faithful they had plucked from Rome among 
churches not only incapable of uniting to form one whole, 
in spite of the efforts they made in this direction, but also 
menaced by an indefinite number of fresh divisions into 
more or less peculiar sects. This is the reason Catholics 
have always declared these churches to be open to con- 
demnation and reprobate. 

It should be noted that Luther had by no means desired 
the unfortunate result thus reached by the Eeformation. 
His intention was to reform the Church, not to disinte- 
grate it; throughout his life he deplored the divisions 
wrought by his initiative, and remained firmly attached 
to the idea of catholicity. Up to the time of the Council 
of Trent the Lutherans had not given up hope for the 
reestablishment of unity in Christendom, which proves 
at any rate that they possessed tenacity in illusion. More- 
over, Erasmus and other men of goodwill shared this 
hope with them, and believed that a little mutual amenity 
would make the discovery of a common platform pos- 
sible, if it were agreed to abide by no more than the 
essential verities of the Christian religion. Melancthon, 
Grotius and, upon the Catholic side, Spinola the Austrian 
(to mention the chief figures only) were all search- 

396 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

ing for formulas of conciliation. In the course of the 
seventeenth century Bossuet and Leibnitz will begin par- 
leys again upon the same subject. 

On the other hand, during the course of the sixteenth 
century several attempts to unite in one body all the vari- 
ous Reformed Churches were made — a task at first 
glance easier to perform than the accomplishment of a 
compromise with Rome, but one which succeeded no bet- 
ter. With the exception of unyielding fanatics, the true 
Christians in the divers camps were pained by this over- 
throw of the old fraternal ideal upon which the ancient 
Church had been built, all the more so because they were 
able to use the disorder and violence which had resulted 
from it as a measure of its evils in practice, but it was no 
longer in their power to restore what had crumbled to 
pieces. 8 


Protestantism, if under this name we group — quite 
artificially — all the various churches born of the oppo- 
sition to Roman pontificalism, will therefore live its own 
life in the world. Thanks above all to the Anglo-Saxon 
expansion, it will occupy a place of importance and, 
either directly by the influence of its spirit and its own 
proper tendencies, or indirectly by the political complica- 
tions it will engender, and the intellectual reactions 
induced in Christendom by its means, it will often 
play a very considerable part in its affairs. Its particu- 
lar history in these divers respects is of great interest, 
indeed it is one of the main aspects of modern and con- 
temporary history, but I shall not undertake to enter into 
detail about it here; it deserves to be studied at length 
for its own sake. From the point of view chosen here 
for the purpose of considering the life of the Christian 

6 In the course of time Erasmus' illusion will be often entertained 
again by large-minded and liberal Christians, but it is unnecessary to 
state that these will not usually be found in the ranks of the Catholics. 
These last see but one way to reestablish union : for the Protestants to 
own their long-standing error and submit to the Sovereign- Pontiff. Cf. 
C. Woodruff Shields, The United Church of the United States (N. Y., 


religion, the sole lesson I shall endeavor to draw from 
the history of Protestantism is that which emerges 
from a study, and that a very summary one, of its 

Despite notable differences in character, spirit, tend- 
encies, and sometimes in beliefs, the protagonists of the 
Eeformation and its theoricians, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, 
John Knox, Melancthon, Farel, Theodore de Beze, and 
even Henry VIII, resemble one another in more ways 
than one. Their common hatred of the abominable two- 
fold adulteration which serves Eome as a substitute for 
the authentic Christian Truth and the veritable Church 
of Christ makes this sufficiently plain. They all indeed 
believe that such a thing as authentic Christian Truth, 
and Revealed Truth, does exist; they all believe that 
there is a true Church of Christ, a Church foreseen, 
desired, and established by Christ; to put it differently, 
they remain dogmatists and continue to be profoundly 
attached to the idea of orthodoxy. Undoubtedly they 
reject the tradition of the Catholic Church — far less com- 
pletely, however, than they think — but the Scriptures, the 
Bible, possesses for them the dignity of the Book wholly 
inspired, the impregnable depositary of the fundamental 
verities and the essential rules of life. They see all this 
in it very clearly, all of them, though not all in the same 
way and in the same terms, but with an equal certitude. 
And they do not perceive that it is in reality their own 
religious predilections which animate the ancient text 
and read their particular faith into it. The discovery in 
the Bible of the economy of the Church of England, or 
even that of the Lutheran Church, or the Calvinistic 
dogma, is a scarcely less paradoxical undertaking than 
the task of founding the rule of faith and the organiza- 
tion of the entire Eoman Church upon the same 
Book. In the fond belief that they were returning to 
"apostolic tradition" the Reformers worked out for 
themselves the religion demanded by their habits, senti- 
ments and culture — nothing more. As a matter of fact, 
they did not admit that their Truth could be challenged 

398 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

any more than Rome made a similar admission, which is 
indeed why they did not agree among themselves. 

At the start, however, they got rid of a considerable 
part of Roman dogmatism, an important and very practi- 
cal result of great interest. Chiefly to be remembered, 
however, is the fact, as I have already pointed out, that 
it was not in their power to drop the principle of free 
inquiry which had helped them to throw off the yoke of 
"popery." Although the product of a course of criticism 
which we may think inadequate and both timid and short- 
sighted, their sects none the less were founded 
upon criticism; fond at first of authority as they 
were, still they owed their existence to a revolt against 
authority; in spite of themselves they were on the side 
essentially of liberty. On this account, from the day of 
their origin and by reason of this same origin, they bore 
within themselves the seeds of their approaching disrup- 
tion; very speedily would they become conscious of their 
own determining principle again. All the more was this 
debacle sure to come to pass because the new orthodoxy 
and doctrinal intolerance which they founded did not rest 
upon any religious authority external to the will of their 
own adherents. 

In each Church undoubtedly a tradition evolved which 
allowed, or cut a channel, for the digressions of religious 
individualism, but success in these respects was very 
imperfect. The Reformed communities had at their dis- 
posal scarcely any other method of action than expulsion 
to prevent their adherents from further advance on their 
own account along the road the Reformers had opened 
up, through the interpretation, in their turn and according 
to their fancy, of the sacred writings, the sole depositary 
of the faith. Protestant "Biblicism" thus proved curi- 
ously productive of schism, which divided its churches 
into an indefinite number of distinct sects. Wherever 
these churches were able to acquire the status of official 
instruments of public life and strengthem themselves 
through the support received from the secular authori- 
ties, they managed to avoid material waste almost 


entirely. As soon as this support failed them, and the 
gift of liberty (always fatal to orthodoxy) was forced 
upon them, they experienced a rapid increase in the num- 
ber of dissenting communions. This is the most remark- 
able phenomenon presented by the religious life of the 
United States, but it is much more a product of the very 
nature and fundamental principles of the Reformed 
Churches than of the American mentality. Even in the 
church body which, in its organization and discipline and 
even, to a certain extent in its spirit, most closely 
resembles the Roman Church, I mean the Church of 
England, symptoms of divisions, at any rate of profound 
doctrinal differences, become daily more perceptible. 

As a matter of fact, the dogmatic "Biblicism" of the 
Reformation, which must have exerted a profound influ- 
ence upon whole nations (especially upon the English 
and the Americans) even to the extent of becoming a 
basic element of their national character, will not be 
maintained as a whole longer than the time needed for 
Biblical criticism to become self-conscious, organize 
itself succintly, and test itself and learn the use of its 
wings. From that date (which coincides with the latter 
part of the eighteenth century) dogmatic "Biblicism" 
will begin to disintegrate slowly, and its decay will 
become more clearly perceptible in proportion as the sci- 
ence of exegesis gets bolder and presses its advance. 

The inevitable denouement of the Protestant evolution, 
whatever the sect in question, is adogmatism, i.e. the 
abandonment of dogmatism; it is personal religion. 
"That which we retain of them" (i.e. of the Christian 
beliefs) "for our own personal account is that which 
appears to us to be true, apart from any supernatural 
authority," Albert Reville wrote not many years ago. 7 
Here is the formula which expresses the great principle 
of liberal Protestantism toward which irresistibly all 
Protestant sects are more or less rapidly moving. It is 
clearly evident that it no more harmonizes with the doc- 
trine of Luther or Calvin than with that of St. Thomas 

T Eistoire dm dogme de la divinity de Je'sus-Christ, p. 1G. 

400 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

Aquinas. From its point of view, the "doctrinal stages" 
of the past simply represent the successive steps which 
the Christian life has taken in its onward course. "Chris- 
tianity, ever borrowing its forms from the surroundings 
in which it has to live its life, after it has for a time 
given in to them, in turn frees itself and triumphs over 
the inferior and temporary elements which first capti- 
vated it. From age to age it displays an increasing inde- 
pendence and a purer and loftier spirituality." 8 These 
are the words chosen by Auguste Sabatier to express this 
great truth of Christian evolution, which made his own 
personal form of religion seem to him its present, natural, 
necessary, though temporary stage, since tomorrow it will 
be left behind. Therefore he also says: "Not only has 
Christianity never been better understood than in our own 
times, but civilization, or the soul of humanity taken in 
its entirety, has never been more fundamentally Chris- 
tian." This is no doubt true on the condition that it is 
agreed to identify the views of liberal theology with the 
essence of historical Christianity, and that is an identity 
which is impossible from the scientific point of view, as 
Loisy has triumphantly demonstrated in his celebrated 
L'Evangile et VEglise, in opposition to the theory 
advanced by Harnack in his Essence of Christianity. 

It is not to apostolic Christianity, therefore, that the 
evolution of the Reformed Churches in respect both to 
doctrine and spirit takes us back. It is to a personal 
religion called forth by the intellectual and moral needs 
of the day, whose organizing principle in its interpreta- 
tion of the ancient text and the facts of Christianity's 
past is to treat them as a function of these tendencies, 
henceforth freed from the yoke of authority. Frequently 
nothing is more difficult than to determine exactly what a 
Protestant believes. The same denomination may shelter 
every shade of belief from a faith closely allied to that 
of an intelligent Catholic, to a looseness hardly distin- 
guishable from agnosticism, so very slight are the points 

8 Esquisse d'une philosophie de la 7-eligion d'aprds la psychologie et 
Vhistoire (Paris, 1897), p. 218. 


of difference. Generally speaking, the Protestant who is 
not bound by the regrettable prejudices of a very medi- 
ocre culture sees in Christ but the Master, divinely 
inspired, of perfect morality and of the religion of the 
Spirit; the Man from whom issues legitimately a 
humanity better than its pagan predecessor, rising 
toward an ideal set for her by Providence, becoming 
perfected through constant effort to walk in the way 
which the Lord has opened to it. But how define rightly 
the source of the inspiration of this incomparable Mas- 
ter? What is God, and how does he stand with relation 
to the Jahveh of the Bible? What idea ought we to 
form of his personality? Is it indeed quite certain that 
he has one? Upon these and many questions of a similar 
nature it is often quite difficult to obtain an exact idea 
when one tries to grasp what such and such an educated 
and thoughtful Protestant, who continues to call himself a 
Christian, still retains of his beliefs sharply defined in the 
depths of his religious consciousness. The replies will 
vary in the extreme according to the person interrogated, 
for a time has come when everyone carves out for him- 
self under the label of Christianity a religion made to his 
own measure and to suit his personal needs. 

Here is the lesson which we must draw from this dis- 
memberment of the Beformed Churches and from this 
disruption of Christian doctrine in Protestantism. From 
the sixteenth century the system of dogmatics upon which 
Western ecclesiastical Christianity, the official theological 
Christianity, rested, had virtually sunk into a decline and 
was out of date. In Protestant communities, where it 
could not lean for support upon the protection of a tradi- 
tional organization which was very strong and a central 
authority very sure of its intentions and desires, it was 
soon in jeopardy. The simplification, a kind of pruning, 
to which the Beformers first subjected it, was speedily 
shown to be insufficient ; a much more revolutionary proc- 
ess of readjustment became indispensable. The men of 
those days did not realize this situation, but the course 
of events brought their error to light. It may also be 

402 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

maintained as a corollary to this conclusion that if Catho- 
lic doctrine and practice, which have themselves under- 
gone no such simplification, endured and still endure, 
resisted and still resist dismemberment, even far better 
than their rivals, the credit is not to be ascribed to their 
own greater value or intrinsic truth. It is chargeable to 
the effort toward recovery and to the capacity for 
enforced submission and conservation displayed by the 
Roman Church. Through and in this Church medieval 
Christianity has been able to prolong its integral exist- 
ence until now. It is no slight merit to maintain such 
a position, even were it in appearance only. 



No more in the sixteenth century than in our own times, 
when the modernist crisis arose, did the Roman Catholic 
Church allow the assault of her adversaries to pass 
unchallenged. Her danger aroused an invincible devotion 
within her ranks ; she mustered all her forces, summoned 
up all her energies, and took very decisive measures to 
protect herself. Decisive at any rate they were in the 
sense that they limited the damage done by the Protestant 
Reformation, repaired it to some extent and, most impor- 
tant of all, rendered a recurrence of it more difficult. 

It goes without saying that since it was the papal 
throne which was primarily and directly menaced by the 
efforts of the Reformers, both the organization and the 
carrying out of this defense was taken over by the 
Papacy. Conscious as it was of the peril, and resolute in 
launching a vigorous counter-attack, however, it would 
not perhaps have come through safely all alone ; but neces- 
sity created the instrument which the occasion required 
in the numerous fresh monastic orders (such as the Thea- 
tines, Feuillants, Oratorians, etc.) which sprang up, all 
of them prepared to struggle in behalf of Catholic inter- 
ests. One of these — the Society of Jesus — adapted itself 
in a marvelous way to the needs which the circumstances 
of the day seemed to force upon the Church. 2 

1 H. Hermelink, Reformation und GegenreformaUon, §§ 37-39. 

2 This celebrated order arose out of the initiative of the Spaniard 
Ignatius Loyola, born in 1491. He laid the foundations of the Society 
in Paris in 1534, and obtained not without difficulty the papal approval 
in 1540. Upon the death of Ignatius in 1556 the Jesuits already 
possessed more than a hundred houses or colleges, and in the various 
degrees of their hierarchy there were ovpr a thousand members. 


404 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

The Jesuits were subject to a minutely methodical sys- 
tem of regulations, involving all the circumstances of 
their lives. They were governed by an inexorable and 
really appalling system of discipline accepted by them as 
the primary token and badge of superiority of their order. 
They met all attacks with zeal and, as a rule, with admir- 
able ability. They preached to men of all sorts and con- 
ditions, accommodating themselves to their mental atti- 
tude, and treating their prejudices and even their super- 
stitions with consideration. Their members acted as the 
spiritual directors of most of the highly placed person- 
ages in the Catholic world ; they taught in the universities 
and thronged the schools ; in speech and in writing they 
counter-attacked the doctors of the Eeformed Faith. 
They persevered in efforts to reclaim and bring back 
wandering sheep to the fold, and journeyed in search 
of others among the heathen, both in ancient Asia 
and in the scarcely yet explored countries of the New 
World. Wherever they went, they went as the soldiers 
of Christ, an army devoted to his viceregent. It would 
not be easy to exaggerate the importance of the conse- 
quences arising out of the establishment of this order in 
the Church. As has been very truly said, "It is impossible 
to understand anything of the Catholic system of the 
present day unless we constantly bear in mind that ever 
since 1540 at Eome a black Pope has stood at the side 
of the white one ' ' ; a black Pope who while he proclaims 
that his absolute submission to the titular Pope is his 
highest claim to renown and his most imperative duty, 
yet on all occasions acts as his inevitable and most pow- 
erful counselor and very often becomes his master. 8 

Some care must be taken not to exaggerate nor take 
literally the ill-considered opinions in circulation every- 
where concerning the profound originality of the Jesuits, 
any more than we accept the forbidding legends of their 
Machiavellian skill in politics, or their inexhaustible 

8 Cf. H. Boehmer, Les JSsuites (Monod's translation, Paris, 1910). 
In Macaulay's History of England From the Accession of James II, 
Vol. II, ch. vi., there are some very suggestive pages concerning the 
spirit of the Society of Jesus. 


astuteness and moral compromises in the interests "of 
the greater glory of God," which is at times jeopardized 
by their defense. I do not mean that these legends have 
nothing back of them, or that the explanation of the 
genesis of the word "Jesuitry" as due to pure calumnies 
can stand, but I do say that it is wrong to judge the Order 
from the opinions of it recorded in the liberal thought of 
the last century, or from the spirit of Eugene Sue's 
Wandering Jew. 

First of all it is well to note that none of the various 
modes of Jesuit activity is peculiar to them. They had 
been practiced by other monks before their time, but, to 
tell the truth, none had combined them all as well. On 
the other hand, there is no doubt that while their founder, 
Ignatius Loyola, who impressed the characteristic fea- 
tures upon their Society which it has since maintained, 
was a genius, both as a mystic and a man of practical 
affairs of a rather rare kind, yet he was not the only one 
in his own day. He even bears a family likeness, greater 
than one would at first believe, to a Luther or a Calvin. 
The vast dissimilarity between the results to which 
their peculiar temperaments and differing circumstances 
led must not be allowed to hide this truth, or prevent the 
recognition that it is frequently the same mystic sources 
which have been drawn upon by both the great Reformers 
and Loyola. We are often astounded by the strictness 
of the submission to the Pope demanded by the fourth 
vow which Loyola imposed upon his monks, and likewise 
by the blind acceptance of all the Church's decisions 
which is affirmed to be absolutely necessary in the Spirit- 
ual Exercises. The Jesuit is under bonds to confess that 
an object which his eyes tell him to be white is black, if 
ecclesiastical authority says it is.* This is certainly car- 
rying things to excess, this refusal to recognize any 
limits to monastic obedience. But its open absurdity and 
tyranny cannot be credited entirely to a special inspira- 
tion of Ignatius. Instinctively and as it were of necessity, 

* Si quid quod oculis nostris apparet album, nigrum ilia (Ecclesia) 
esse deflnierit, debemus itidem quod nigrum sit pronuntiare. 

406 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

it was meant to react against the disorders of all kinds 
produced by the shock given to the principle of authority 
in the Church, and the disgrace of it was offensive to him. 
His intense nature forced him to go further than others 
who aimed to restore discipline, but in the same direction. 
As a historical fact, the Society of Jesus therefore, as we 
see it, appears to be the model development of the medie- 
val monachism, the achievement of perfection in its line 
and a logical outcome of its age. The real merits of its 
founder, moreover, are not impaired by this statement. 

To judge from his thought concerning them, however, 
the Jesuits did not appear destined to develop into 
exactly what they so promptly became. His own thought 
had been to establish a society of missionaries, men who 
should propagate the faith among unbelievers. His spir- 
itual sons will not forget this intention, but no one will 
contend that it remained their chief, or at any rate, their 
sole preoccupation. Circumstances, to which even Igna- 
tius gradually yielded, soon enlarged and diversified the 
field of their activities. It was preeminently as the cham- 
pions in theory, and the most determined instruments of 
pontifical monarchism, and, from another point of view, 
as the vigilant guardians of traditional orthodoxy, the 
headstrong caretakers of medievalism, that the Jesuits 
occupied so important a place in the life of the Catholic 
Church. There lies the origin of the admiration 
they excited and the mass of hatred that has accumulated 
against them, even among the clergy. Never until then, 
in fact, had the parochial clergy, from the standpoint of 
its own autonomy, encountered in the formidable army 
of monachal associations more enterprising, versatile or 
tenacious enemies. 

" Develop thyself," ordained Loyola, "not for pleasure, 
but for action"; action, that is, for the Church, naturally. 
This precept might rightly claim to be a true characteri- 
zation of the practical intentions of the Order. 
It does not choose any one program to the exclu- 
sion of another, but continues versatile enough to adapt 
itself to them all. It treats every case as individual and 


decides upon the combination of elements which will be 
the most effective. It is even equal to the prosecution, as 
if moved by an irresistible urge, of active search for new 
enterprises which promise to bring profit to the Church 
or to the Society itself. 


In any case, when Pope Paul III, after much trouble 
and hesitation, decided to confide the task of organizing 
the Catholic defense and reenforcing the foundations of 
the Church to a council, 5 he left its execution to the 
Jesuits. Now from that time and even before the date 
that Bellarmin, one of their Order, had put their ideas 
into fixed doctrinal formulas, they judged it meet and 
proper for the Church to identify herself with the Pope, 
and believed that all that would be left without him would 
only be a body inanimate. Why wonder then that every- 
thing was regulated and combined in the work of repair 
undertaken by the Council to the advantage and in accord- 
ance with the interests of the Pontiff? 

They deemed the reform of the Church to be urgently 
needed, but not reform in the sense in which the word was 
generally understood. Far from thinking, as did so many 
others, that it must begin by limiting the papal omnipo- 
tence and tempering the oppressive tyranny of the curia, 
to them its necessary organizing principle was to be found 
in the unconditional recognition of pontifical absolutism 
and still more rigorous centralization of ecclesiastical 
government. They even devised means for justifying the 
shameful Roman fiscal system as the will of God. Of the 
changes in ecclesiastical economy which the "innovators" 
of the previous century had demanded, the refusal of 
which by Rome had provoked the Reformation, they 
would not hear a word. Thanks to the persevering per- 

5 This was the Council of Trent, which sat from 1545 to 1563, in 
twenty-five sessions with two interruptions — one from 1549 to 1551, 
the other from 1552 to 1562. Its work is summed up in two books, 
indispensable to those who desire to understand modern Catholicism : 
Catechismus Concilii Tridentini, and Saorosancti et oecumenioi ConcilU 
Tridentini . . . canones et decreta. 

408 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

sonal force of one of their number, Lainez, the majority 
of the Fathers of the Council of Trent took the same 
stand. The modernists, who formed at first a fairly 
numerous portion of the Council, were routed, and the 
rest of the members, remaining masters of the decision, 
disavowed their predecessors of Constance and Basle, by 
definitely recognizing the Pope's supremacy over Church 
Councils. When the question of defining the orthodox 
faith and the correct theology came up for action the Soci- 
ety of Jesus, which was attached to Thomism by the 
desire of its founder, spared no endeavor to make this 
system the basis of all the discussion and to have it 
treated as the flawless expression of the Truth. Lainez 
once more was responsible for the decision to create semi- 
naries where young clerics could be educated in sound 
doctrines by uniform methods, sheltered from the influ- 
ences of the day. 

Throughout the work of the Council of Trent and, in 
a more general way, in the entire program of Catholic 
reform, the initiative and the spirit of the Jesuits is in 
evidence. Its hand is seen in the establishment of the 
Index, designed to guard the faithful from writings dan- 
gerous to their faith ; in the editing of a catechism which 
states the faith in accurate, if not lucid, formulas, acces- 
sible, if not intelligible, to all ; in the settling of most of 
the Decreta which regulate ne varietur the disputed 
points submitted to the Council, and even in the Professio 
fidei, decreed by Pius IV in 1564, a veritable anti-mod- 
ernist oath, a form of acceptance of the Credo of Trent, 
to which priests and instructors of youth had to sub- 
scribe. Compulsion, which is the mainspring of the 
Jesuit policy, is made the strongest guarantee of Cath- 
olic unity, and complete immobility represents its ideal. 

The executive agency indispensable to the success of 
the vast plan of reform set up by the Council was the 
product of the forceful will of Sixtus V (1585-1590), who 
reorganized the central administration of the Church 
and instituted the famous Roman Congregations, recently 
remodeled by Pius X — special Commissions and Councils 


to which all business of any importance in the whole 
Catholic world is finally referred. By means of these 
the Pope holds in the hollow of his sovereign hand control 
over nearly all the thought and all the action of the 
faithful. 6 


Such a mighty effort of reconstruction was not void of 
result. If Protestantism was not destroyed, it was at 
any rate everywhere subject to counter-attack; it fell 
back everywhere and in some countries, like Italy and 
Spain, it even disappeared. Entrenched in two invulner- 
able fortresses, as it were, in Austria and Poland, the 
Jesuits inaugurated a veritable siege of Germany, and 
brought every imaginable device into play, from the 
efforts of their schoolmasters to the political combina- 
tions engineered by their diplomats and the favors 
granted by rulers (such as the Emperor Ferdinand II) 
molded by them, to restore Catholic supremacy there. 
Nothing less than the Thirty Years' War and the play 
of national interests which they could not grasp pre- 
vented their complete success. Moreover, the clergy 
mended their ways; their morals improved, their 
zeal increased, and their priestly competency became 
enlarged and grew more assured ; they recovered a great 
degree of influence over the laity and endeavored to keep 
them in hand by imposing the practice of frequent confes- 
sion and the regular exercise of pious devotions. For 
more than two centuries education and intellectual cul- 
ture became once more Catholic in all the countries under 
pontifical rule, perhaps more strictly so than it had ever 

In this matter, too, some qualifications must be noted, 
for the results everywhere were by no means of the 
finest religious quality. It was the Jesuits, for instance, 
who applied themselves particularly to the education and 
training of the children of the nobility and bourgeoisie 
in schools which they opened wherever possible; 

8 De Hiibner, Sixie Quint (Paris, 1882). 

410 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

they did not try to make well-informed theologians or 
even well-instructed Christians of their pupils, but simply 
Catholics who were firmly wedded to their catechism, pro- 
foundly attached to their rites of worship, inaccessible to 
the arguments of those ill disposed to their religion, and 
entirely devoted to their masters. This narrow and 
' ' tendencious ' ' pedagogy has fashioned many generations 
of right-thinking men according to the ideal of right 
thinking approved by the Order ; it is not so certain that it 
has left room for all the aspirations of their religious 
sentiment to unfold, or even for their religious person- 
ality to develop, but that was never the essential point 
with their teachers. 

On the other hand, if all intellectual life in Catholic 
countries was shut up anew within religious settings (to 
measure the extent of this recovery we have only to 
remember the general characteristics of our classical 
literature in the seventeenth century) 7 it is well to note 
clearly that uneducated believers did not understand 
dogma any better than before. They were like the chil- 
dren brought up by the Jesuits; drilling precepts and 
formulas into them, and careful observance of the prac- 
tices of religion, added nothing in the way of amplitude 
to their religious sentiments ; on the contrary, this exten- 
sion of the dams hemming it in, sterilized it. 

The attitude of the Jesuits with regard to the sincere 
and confiding masses and their notions and customs war- 
rants a certain degree of surprise. Far from combating 
the questionable beliefs of the Middle Ages the Jesuits 
helped to establish them more firmly, through the 

7 At the beginning of the seventeenth century, especially in France, 
there was a very interesting revival of religious sentiment in a 
restricted circle of Christians. Mere Angelique appeared in Port Royal ; 
the noted journee du guichet dates it on Sept. 25, 1609. It was also the 
time when, with St. Francis de Sales, St. Jeanne de Chantal, St. Vincent 
de Paul, Father de Berulle, founder of the Oratory, the great Jansenists 
and other great Christian souls appeared. Upon the activity of the 
divots associated "for the greater glory of God" in the first half of the 
century, cf. R. Allier, La Compagtnie du Tres Saint-Sacrament de Vautel. 
La cabale des divots, 1627-1666 (Paris, 1902). Upon the excesses on 
which the religion of the simpler-minded may founder, cf. G. Legue, 
Urbain Orandier et les pos&e'dees de Loudun (Paris, 1884). 


increased importance attached by them to the practices 
they had engendered, such as processions, pilgrimages, 
and pious demonstrations of every kind. All these 
notions and customs, through their intervention, are now 
officially entitled to occupy the foreground of the Chris- 
tian life, as if they had mistaken for the essentials of 
religion that which in any case could be no more than its 
setting. Thus in distant countries like China or India, 
for instance, in order to gain converts in appearance, 
and secure influence that was real for themselves, they 
would consent to combinations of doctrines and rites 
which orthodoxy found alarming. These will not be long 
in causing them considerable embarrassment when blun- 
derers full of zeal explain them to the faithful at home. 
There can be no doubt that the religion encouraged by 
their popular " missions," and developed in their pious 
congregations, was not of the highest Christian quality. 

It may be asked again whether the impetus they gave 
to Mariolatry and to the worship of saints and relics, 
already such an encumbrance and so paganizing in its 
effects in the Middle Ages, was really from the religious 
point of view a very happy counter-response to the sift- 
ing of dogma done by the Huguenots. The exploitation 
of the untamed and erotic mysticism of Marie Alacoque 
(1647-1690) and the establishment in consequence of the 
public worship of the Sacred Heart, at the end of the 
seventeenth century (both of them equally the work of 
the Society of Jesus), are of the same order and exagger- 
ate, if that be possible, a tendency which good Catholics 
of the present day deem deplorable. 

Nevertheless the worst has not yet been told, for the 
Jesuits also accepted almost as dogma a number of 
absurd superstitions — like the belief in witchcraft, for 
instance. The driving energy and hounding persever- 
ance, which they used to substantiate the existence of 
these sorcerers, cannot be said to have done them much 
honor. In the conflict with science, the contest over the 
emancipation of the human mind (from the parasitic and 
sterile beliefs of traditional faith, be it understood, and 

412 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

not from the basic dogmas), the Jesuits for a long time 
stood in the forefront of the battle. Their attitude tells 
us much about the direction and designs, religious as well 
as intellectual, of the Catholic Eef orm. 

From the strictly Catholic point of view, or, if it be 
preferred, from the Roman, the results might seem to be 
excellent, since the Pope recovered and even added to his 
power over a Church more united and more submissive 
than ever. To be sure, there still remained outside that 
same Church many men whom formerly she had cherished 
in her bosom, but she might hope to get them back again 
one day and she was endeavoring to bring about this 
return to the fold. Meanwhile the severity of the judg- 
ment she passed upon their pride and their malignant 
course consoled her to some slight extent for their deser- 
tion. In short, thanks to the movement which had cen- 
tralized and disciplined much more than it had reformed 
her, she had in the main escaped from the clutches of the 
Reformation which would have dissolved her. Both the 
present and her immediate future seemed to be well safe- 
guarded for her. 


Nevertheless a terrible imprudence, affecting all the 
future, had been committed at Trent under the influence 
of the Jesuits, who were immutably persuaded that they 
possessed ultimate Truth. Not only had Tradition been 
declared equal to Scripture (which definitely cut short 
any attempt at reform of the Church teaching in the 
Protestant direction), but the Council had also defined 
and formulated everything contained in the faith from 
this traditional point of view, and had ranked its 
work, despite its intensely human standing as shown 
by its falterings and delays, as work done under the 
authority of the Holy Spirit. If additions remained per- 
missible to its creed, on condition that they pointed in 
the same direction and made more of the officially defined 
truths, it became, de facto, if not de jure, an impossibility 
to strike out or alter anything in that creed, in respect 


to its substance or its form. This defiance of life, this 
foolish negation of history, this contempt for all the expe- 
rience of the past of the Church, laid up an endless store 
of tribulations for modern Catholic thought. 

If the Trentine Fathers acted rightly in bearing in 
mind the urgent necessities of the Church in her reor- 
ganization, their work, as far as dogma was concerned, 
was too strictly in conformity with a theology which in 
their day was already out of date, even in the form given 
it by William of Ockham. Unfortunately that was the 
one in which they were practiced adepts ; they did not so 
much as conceive of any other, and such was still its 
sovereign prestige that the Reformers who sought its 
overthrow did not always manage to free themselves 
from it. Further, as has already been shown, the Jesuits 
were wedded to the Thomist rendering of it which they 
regarded as the correct expression, both philosophical 
and true, of revelation. In accord upon this point with 
the Dominicans, they demanded that the Council should 
keep a copy of the Summa constantly open in front of it 
on the same reading-desk, side by side with the text of 
the Scriptures, a symbol perfectly indicative of the 
designs and direction pertaining to the theological side of 
all this reform. It is more than a restoration; it is 

By the will of the Jesuits, who knew how to persuade 
the Council to follow their lead, Catholics discovered that 
henceforth and forever they were condemned to belief 
in the religious metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas. All 
its inherent disadvantages, beginning with its utter unin- 
telligibility to ordinary believers, will only become more 
emphasized from age to age, and Rome will not be able 
to ward them off or even to recognize their existence 
without seeming to belie herself. It was truly a some- 
what daring challenge after the Renascence, this demand 
that Christian belief shall remain confined in the Scholas- 
tic formulas of the thirteenth century, and religious sen- 
timent be obliged to articulate itself according to the 
methods of, and the scientific knowledge derived from, 

414 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

pseudo-Aristotle. Such a delusion could only shape 
itself in the heads of monks by the aid of the obstinacy 
characteristic of closed minds, insensible to the needs of 
life, and inalterably certain that they held in a firm grasp 
beyond peradventure, both in essence and form, the abso- 
lute and utter Truth. 

To understand aright the intention of the Council, note 
must be taken that it disavowed even the relative liberal- 
ism of ''the angelic Doctor," and limited much more 
strictly than he had done all possibility for the individual 
of an independent, autonomous religious life. St. Thomas 
remained of the opinion that the Christian only owes 
assent, strictly speaking, to the ecclesiastical decisions 
handed down in writing. Now the Council had singu- 
larly increased the number of binding obligations of this 
kind, by authenticating apocryphal statements and 
sanctifying mistranslations (for instance, when it pro- 
claimed the authenticity of the Vulgate). Moreover, 
it had taken the submission due to the Scriptures 
and to the regularly established Canon law, and 
extended it to all the decisions of the Church authorities 
on the ground that the Church speaks as the unquestion- 
able interpreter of everything covered by the unanimous 
consent of the Fathers. In practice this amounts to a 
permission to bend all the faithful to her yoke without 
any possible right of appeal. Every chance to criticize 
and even any and every means of intervening at all are 
henceforward denied to them. Kegarded from the stand- 
point of a demand that submission be carried to this 
length, all the great doctors of the Middle Ages, begin- 
ning with St. Thomas Aquinas, would have to be classi- 
fied as rebels and heretics. Assuredly the Church could 
have derived real profit and advantage from the right 
which she gave herself to interpret and formulate Tradi- 
tion (graded by her as upon the same plane as the Scrip- 
tures and the Councils). She could have used it to keep 
the faith in touch with the onward flow of life and tone 
down the rigidity of the texts which had come to her 
from the past, and in this way still had it in her power 


to preserve Catholicism from paralysis and death. On 
the contrary, however, she only made use of the excessive 
powers with which she had endowed herself to stiffen the 
immobility, and cut short any move looking to the evolu- 
tion of the faith, thereby destroying all effort calculated 
to readjust the forms of religion to the new needs of men. 
In acting thus the Trentine Fathers showed they did not 
rightly understand St. Thomas, but were a long way 
behind him in his sense of life. 

On the very morrow of the Council no thoughtful 
Christian could doubt that the more complete shackling 
of all religious liberty would be the way that Kome would 
exploit her victory. The Pope did indeed make some 
efforts to keep the promises which he made to the Coun- 
cil to suppress nepotism, amend the offensive pomp of 
the cardinals, and correct the morals of the clergy. He 
appeared (like Pius X in our own days) to take the live- 
liest interest in Christian learning and its renewal. While 
he did not spare the scholars either substantial encour- 
agement or tools for their work, he did refuse them lib- 
erty, the right to exercise the initiative required to push 
on in untrodden paths and to rejuvenate existing meth- 
ods. The unfortunate Catholic scholars who were taken 
in by his fine assurances led an insupportable and steri- 
lizing existence under a regime of constraint and espion- 
age, accusation and chicane. Here is another symbol, 
expressive this time of the very spirit of the Catholic 

In order that the theological work of the Council of 
Trent might last otherwise than in books and sermons, 
and really live on and serve as a shelter for the religious 
life of the future, it would first of all have been necessary 
for the living faith of the middle of the sixteenth century 
really to put on the forms which the Fathers desired to 
impose upon it, and this program did not suit it at all. 
Those forms already were too narrow and rigid for it. 
It was only in appearance that it seemed to find them a 
shelter and, without the corrective of the mysticism indi- 
vidual and collective which naturally overflows all for- 

416 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

Hildas and suits itself to them all, never would the Jesuits 
themselves have been able to dwell within the limits they 
had imposed upon Catholicism. Moreover, they have 
often been obliged to accommodate St. Thomas to circum- 
stances. Only a religion consisting wholly of practices, 
a religious mechanism, like, indeed, the one dreamed by 
them for the uneducated laity, corresponds to the narrow 
and rigid measurements of the pattern provided by the 
Council of Trent. But all intellectual life, all religious 
life, could not abruptly come to a standstill in the Church ; 
the multitude of Catholics could not resign themselves 
to follow their pastors forever with never a backward 
look over the ground traversed. Such indeed was the 
ideal of the Jesuits, and such undoubtedly it still remains, 
but it had few chances to win the day and, as a matter 
of fact, never has won the day. Progress, by which I 
mean the movement which is the badge of life, continued 
in the Church after her reform, but it was destined in 
advance to find itself at odds with this or that Trentine 
decision, that is, to give expression to heresies. For this 
reason we may maintain that if the efforts of the Council 
and the Jesuits saved the Catholic Church in the great 
crisis of the Reformation, they prepared her decadence 
and overthrow in the future by deliberately depriving her 
of the indispensable faculty of readjustment to the 
changes going on around her, by means of which she had 
hitherto insured her survival. 



If the theology which in form and spirit was Scholas- 
tic, however out of date it actually was, did not yet appear 
unacceptable to the majority of men in the sixteenth 
century, the time was approaching when its vulnerability 
and empty narrowness would be apparent to educated 
Christians, in spite of all the precautions taken by those 
who labored in the counter-Reformation to prevent it. 2 
This period, which begin toward the middle of the seven- 
teenth century and lasts until the end of the eighteenth, 
has been called in Germany the Auflddrung (the enlight- 
enment), and it deserves to retain this descriptive name. 
It is marked by an effort of human reason, guided by 
philosophical reflection and scientific knowledge, to free 
itself from the dogmatism imposed upon it by revelation, 
to obtain its discharge from the authoritarianism of 
orthodoxy, to cast the light which nature places at our 
disposal upon religious feeling and sentiment. It is not 
indeed a movement opposed to religion, nor even to its 
ecclesiastical forms sanctioned by tradition and custom, 
but of a more and more effectually concerted resistance 

1 Lecky, History of the Use and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism 
in Europe (London, 1866). Detailed bibliography in Horst Stephan, 
Die Neuzeit (Kriiger, Kirchengeschichte, Vol. IV). 

2 To show how long Scholastic dialectic maintained its influence over 
cultivated minds, it will suffice to recall Father Rapin, a Jesuit and Latin 
poet (1623-1687), who learnedly discoursed upon the cause, efficient, 
material, formal and final, of pastoral poetry. At the same time a 
Protestant polemist drew up under the title of Disquisitio academica de 
Papistarum indiclons, according to all the Scholastic rules, an indict- 
ment of the Index (1RS4). Even in the eighteenth century, the methods 
of Scholastic locric prevailed in the Jesuit schools, which explains why 
Diderot and D'Alembert still fulminate against them, as if still dealing 
with a very threatening evil. 


418 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

of the spirit to the letter, of life to formula, of tolerance 
to compulsion, of individual initiative to the obligation 
of a collective obedience. 

For this reason the domination of the Church was sub- 
jected, in this "age of enlightenment," to an assault 
which shook it to its depths. 

Before this new spirit was clearly manifest, the way 
had been prepared in obscurity for it by a series of appar- 
ently disconnected events. Their contemporaries did not 
always perceive their significance nor measure their com- 
pass, but to us, who can view them whole and in the 
necessary perspective, they appear to be singularly con- 
vergent. Once we cease to stop short on the surface of 
things Or to take the evident faculty for believing, yield- 
ing, obeying and following tradition almost blindly — cer- 
tainly the seventeenth century provides an example of 
these — as the excusive constituent of man's spiritual 
nature ; once we realize the consummate value of dissent, 
of intellectual heresy and individual initiative which col- 
lects and synthesizes fruitful tendencies at the opportune 
moment, we shall realize how far back goes the prepara- 
tion now to be spoken of. In reality very little time 
elapsed between the first signs of its appearance and the 
moment when the work of the Catholic Eeform is 

Firstly, many among the Reformers who did not rally 
to the standards of the Roman Church continued to think 
and write. Little by little, simply by mulling over ardu- 
ous problems through the force of habit, their critical 
spirit acquired acumen as well as audacity and they freed 
themselves, too, from the prejudices which had paralyzed 
their earlier efforts. Already in the sixteenth century 
and especially in the seventeenth, Catholic orthodoxy had 
its work cut out to hold its own, for many of them proved 
to be formidable disputants. 3 Secondly, the intellectual 
movement that began with the Renascence did not cease 
at the Council of Trent. The attitude of observation and 

8 Cf. Albert Monod, Be Pascal a Chateaubriand. Les de~fenseurs fran- 
cms du Christianistne de 1670 a 1802 (Paris, 1916). 


experiment generally, which inevitably leads to the criti- 
cism of ideas after it has criticized facts, was cul- 
tivated. At first, it is true, religious questions were set 
off by themselves, but by degrees they were drawn in, 
and, if I may put it thus, encompassed ever more 

The fact has already been recalled that in the realm 
of science many discoveries had upset the ideas formed 
up to that time about the cosmos, and overthrown the 
old Ptolemaic system upon which the Thomist cosmology 
was reared. After the discoveries of Copernicus (1473- 
1543), Kepler (1572-1630), Galileo (1564-1642), although 
all their consequences are not immediately perceived, it 
becomes necessary indeed to enlarge God himself and, 
consequently, to state all the traditional problems of 
metaphysics in a different way from that employed by 
Scholastic philosophy. How, for instance, go on con- 
sidering man on earth as the king of creation, when this 
earth, hitherto held as the center of the world, had now 
fallen to the rank of an infinitesimal planet? Was it 
reasonable any longer to maintain that nature entire was 
laid out merely for his convenience, and that the sole 
charge in return laid upon him was to recognize the 
beneficence of God and sing its praises accordingly? 
From another point of view, how uphold the Biblical story 
of the Creation henceforth? And where locate the 
Heaven of God and his saints? Where was Hell to be 
found? How, too, were men to imagine the return of 
Christ any longer in the apocalyptic setting assigned to 
it by orthodox tradition? All these questions were highly 
embarrassing both to reason and to apologetics. More- 
over, the trouble did not end with these most bewildering 
applications of the revolutionary results to which the 
scientific study of the world by the new methods and a 
new spirit had led. The experimental sciences, more 
modest in appearance and more approachable, since they 
are concerned with the study of the most ordinary 
phenomena and facts which strike our senses, regained, 
from the time of Bacon (1561-1626), their rightful dignity 

420 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

and value; the day of natural history according to the 
Bible and of orthodox physics was over. 

And as, in reality, there is but one scientific spirit what- 
ever the subject, and, once given right of way, it does 
not draw back from any field of investigation, it soon 
placed itself at the service of the study of history, 
even the history of the Church, for that department 
attracted the men of those days more than any other, 
and of Biblical exegesis. The past of Christianity, con- 
sidered from the twofold point of view of its traditions 
and its Scriptural and Patristic texts, was like a new 
world opening up unlimited perspectives. When Lenain 
de Tillemont piously overthrew hagiographic legends and 
criticized Patristic accounts, and Richard Simon, an irre- 
proachable Oratorian, with the best intentions in the 
world, proved (thinking undoubtedly that he was render- 
ing Catholic truth a service) that the Bible was not a 
book quite simply dictated by God as the Church was 
pleased to represent it, these men had already traveled 
far upon a fearsome road and were preparing an abun- 
dant crop of embarrassing difficulties for orthodoxy in 
the future. For this reason at the present day Simon 
justly passes for the father of rationalist Biblical criti- 
cism, and Lenain as the founder of unbiased historical 

Already the influence of all this naturalism, by which I 
mean this attention bestowed upon nature and reality, 
began to react upon philosophy. The measure of its 
importance from this point of view may be estimated 
from the writings of two men who are fairly representa- 
tive of the period of disquietude and contradiction that 
formed the first half of the seventeentht century — 
Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) and Campanella (1568- 
1639). Francis Bacon may also be compared to them, 
although he possessed a more positive and better ordered 
mind. All three agree to the rejection of Aristotle and 
the syllogistic dialectic, and to a demand for a return to 
direct observation, to personal search for the truth, and 
to the study of nature. 


Not one of the three is an unbeliever: Bacon remains 
at least ardently Deist and spiritualist ; Bruno, at first a 
Dominican and then a Protestant, experiences a recon- 
version to Catholicism coincident with falling into the 
hands of the Holy Office ; Campanella, also a Dominican, 
protests his orthodoxy is sound throughout his life, and 
although he spends twenty-seven years in prison on that 
score, yet his submission to the Pope and even his ultra- 
montane principles do not undergo alteration. Neverthe- 
less the Utopian conceptions contained in his Civitas 
Solis are scarcely Christian, and the opinions of 
Campanella himself are hardly compatible with the prin- 
ciples of Jesuit theology, as the Jesuits show him very 
clearly. Bruno writes some harsh things about the Pope, 
the sacraments, and Christian sentiments which are 
usually regarded as virtues proper to Christianity, like 
asceticism, pessimism, humility and intellectual obedi- 
ence. Bacon's Novum Organum, too, aims at nothing less 
than doing away with the Aristotelian and Scholastic 
conception of the world. In spite of the hesitations, the 
apparent self-contradictions and ambiguities and the 
occasional ramblings (in the case of the first two) of these 
philosophers, who in a sense are pioneers, the method and 
spirit of modern thought are striving in them after self- 
determination. In their writings this form of thought 
appears already to amount to something more than a 
hope; its main characteristics are settled, and logical 
organization and interpretation rather than a fresh crea- 
tive effort is what their tendencies need for their 
further development. 


Orthodox theology keenly realized that it was in grave 
peril, and confronted that danger to the best of its ability, 
if not always in the most skilful way. Its polemists 
replied to the Huguenots point by point, sometimes 
cleverly; its doctors vigorously opposed such methods of 
historical investigation as seemed perilous to them and 
they resorted, keeping up a practice as old as the hills. 

422 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

to those arguments ad hominem which seem so readily 
decisive to men in authority when they have any force. 
They persecuted Richard Simon (1638-1712), whose 
Histoire critique du Vieux Testament (characterized by 
Bossuet as a "mass of impieties" and a "bulwark of 
libertinism," that is, of free thought) was destroyed by 
order of the police, and whose other writings, with very 
few exceptions, were condemned. Tillemont did not 
escape annoyances either, and had to take many a pre- 
caution to avoid ecclesiastical censure. On the other hand, 
the Copernican system, at first tolerated as a hypothesis, 
was rejected by the Church, February 25, 1617. In 
between, Giordano Bruno was burnt (1600) for having 
accepted it, with other "errors," and Galileo ran grave 
risks because he maintained that neither the Scriptures 
nor the Fathers were inconsistent with one discovery that 
he had made, which transformed the hypothesis into a 
certainty/ Experimental science, banished from the col- 
leges and universities, was thus officially placed in a posi- 
tion very unfavorable to its progress and its existence, 
and reduced to the status of a hobby, suspect in advance, 
of a few solitary thinkers. In his Questiones celeberrimae 
(1623) Father Mersenne expressed the opinion of the 
most enlightened theologians when he declared that 
orthodoxy did not fear either science or reason, and was 
quite prepared to accept all its conclusions, "provided 

* The view that the earth turns round the sun was certainly not 
congenial to theologians, and it was only after 1820 that they permitted 
it to be spoken of as anything but a hypothesis. They were equally 
worried by Galileo's irreverent attitude to Aristotle, whose error about 
the law of falling bodies he had noted. The hypothesis of the immo- 
bility of the sun and the movement of the earth had already been 
several times maintained without prejudice to the authors, who quoted 
Pythagoras as an authority. What did Galileo harm was his pretension 
that he was in agreement with the Bible and the Fathers; moreover 
he affirmed that we have no right to condemn experience in the name 
of the Scriptures, because the true significance of the text is less 
assured than the conclusion which experience imposes. No doctor 
could tolerate such presumptuous impiety. The objections raised to 
Galileo's theories confound our modern ideas. When, for instance, he 
had discovered Jupiter's satellites, the Florentine astronomer Sizzi told 
him that he had most certainly made a mistake, that there could only 
be seven planets, since the sacred candlestick had but seven branches, 
the foetus is perfectly formed at seven months, and the number seven 
proves itself supreme in every direction. 


they agreed with the Scriptures." In our days we have 
learnt what this language means. 

All the efforts of orthodox theology, reenforced by all 
the monastic orders, especially the active, powerful 
Jesuits, armed as it were with the weapon of the 
Inquisition, upheld by the force of the governments 
believing it to be to their interest to league themselves 
with it, were destined in advance to turn out futile, as it 
needed no great prophetic genius to supply the assurance. 
In a matter of science, no matter what the science, the 
deciding power eventually rests always with the truth, 
and those who have sought to arrest it on its march sel- 
dom have any occasion to congratulate themselves. 

The most important thing that had to be done to confer 
upon thought its full freedom and, at the same time, 
raise it to a sense of its own dignity, was to emancipate 
it deliberately from the power of theology. In other 
words it was necessary to form a lay philosophy, a thing 
which the Middle Ages had never known. The Renascence, 
although it had learned that antiquity possessed it, had 
scarcely caught a glimpse of one for itself save in the 
guise of a restoration of Hellenism. 

The foundations of this new philosophy were laid by 
Descartes (1596-1650), a layman versed in the study of 
the exact sciences. First, it would be difficult to give 
thought higher standing than he did, since the affirmation 
of the existence of his thought constituted the basis of 
his assertion that the existence of his own being is a 
certainty and even its justification. This is the meaning 
of his Cogito ergo sum. (I think, therefore I exist.) In 
the second place, he formulated, with an admirable con- 
sistency, purely rational principles of research and 
knowledge, a method of intellectual life which owed 
nothing either to theology or to Scholastic tradition. 
These principles, to believe their originator's protests, 
did not aim to enter into competition with the teachings 
of the Church ; they were not applied to the same subject 
matter as the latter, for which indeed they professed pro- 
found respect. Nevertheless it was beyond them to con- 

424 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

fine their ambition to an intention to enlighten and guide 
man in his study of himself and of the physical world; 
these principles seemed so eminently fitted to govern any 
other kind of mental discipline that upon further consid- 
eration, no other form, not even that of religious discip- 
line, could long remain outside their control. In short, 
the control thus exercised was that of reason itself grown 
self-conscious and systematic. 

It is therefore not only all modern philosophy func- 
tioning independently of theology that starts with 
Descartes, but also an attempt at the emancipation of the 
mind which is going to bear fruit in the "age of 
enlightenment." Modern criticism is already virtually 
contained in the Discours de la methode. The people 
round about Descartes and possibly he himself did not 
perceive what a mental revolution was in preparation 
when he made "preliminary doubt" the first condition of 
all scientific research, and "rational evidence" the 
guarantee required of all knowledge. In practice 
Descartes, followed by Leibnitz who took up and extended 
his work, accepted a compromise, in which sincerity and 
prudence were combined in a ratio difficult to determine, 
between lay philosophy and traditional faith. Its terms 
were so arranged that the illusion of accord between them 
might be preserved for some time longer. 6 But to turn 
aside from a problem, or to disguise it, is not to solve it. 
The problem back of the supposed accord (given out to 
be a priori necessary and actual) between Christian reve- 
lation and reason, theology and science, will come up for 
solution again one day as the very result of the triumph 
of Cartesian principles. 

To tell the truth, our inclination is to wonder that this 

6 Descartes proposed to publish a treatise upon the world; he gave 
up the idea when he learnt of the condemnation of Galileo. He tried 
to avoid attracting the attention of the theologians, and he never missed 
an opportunity to declare his orthodoxy (c/. his letter a MM. les doyens 
et docteurs de la sacrCe faculty de tMologie de Paris). He did not 
however succeed in disarming the Jesuits, and his works were put on 
the Index in 1663; the Roman authorities even obtain several royal 
decrees interdicting Cartesianism in the universities. This is of course 
a waste of time, for the influence of Descartes on the spirit of his age 
was irresistible. 


day should not have arrived sooner. There is in circula- 
tion in polite society, certainly, during the first half of the 
seventeenth century a current of free-thought and 
scepticism, and also of Deism, hostile to Catholic dogma. 
While it is impossible for us to estimate its importance, 
it plainly disturbs zealous believers. Father Mersenne, 
Descartes' friend, had reason to compose his treatise 
upon The Impiety of the Deists (1624), and Pascal to 
collect the material in what we call his Pensees, for an 
ample apologia of the Christian religion. It seems prob- 
able that Campanella, Vanini, Cardan, Bruno, "those rob- 
bers of the faith," as Mersenne calls them, had followers 
in France and elsewhere, but we are scarcely able to 
name many. One such was Gabriel Naude, a physician and 
a savant, who was librarian to Mazarin when he died, 
(1653). According to his friend Guy Patin, he loved to 
repeat: Intus ut libet, foris ut moris est (Think as you 
please in your own minds, but in your conduct follow 
custom). Another of them, La Motte le Vayer, tutor to 
Louis XIV, was certainly an agnostic, and accused of 
atheism, but he diligently acted upon the same principle 
as Naude, and lived and died in tranquillity (1672). As 
a matter of fact, the only direct attacks upon the Christian 
faith in the seventeenth century came from the Jewish 
philosopher, Spinoza (1632-1677). 6 

In him is to be recognized one of the most profound 
thinkers who ever lived, one who still exercises an influ- 
ence upon many philosophers of our own day; in his 
own age, however, he caused scandal and was regarded 
as the prophet of atheism. In reality he applied an 
uncompromising logic to ideas which Telesio and Gior- 
dano Bruno had left obscure, and drew from them the 

6 Certainly the Abbe Gassendi (1592-1655) was at bottom scarcely a 
Christian, and his rehabilitation of Epicurus and "sensualism" as a 
rival of the Cartesian spiritualism, could not please the orthodox. But 
it is worthy of remark that he did not proceed so far with scepticism 
as logic should have led him ; that he raised the philosophy of Epicurus 
"to the level of Christianity as well as of reason," which means that 
he observed due precautions with regard to the Holy Office. It must 
not be forgotten, moreover, that his main work upon this burning sub- 
ject, the Syntagma pMlosophicum, did not appear until after his death. 

426 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

pantheism which was their natural corollary. Following 
in the steps of his master, the rabbi Saul Morteira, he 
also eliminated all that was supernatural from the Bible, 
and pointed out that it did not guarantee the immortality 
of the soul, nor promise a future life. Only a Jew, living 
in a country like Holland, which regarded the liberty of 
the press as a source of considerable profits, would be 
permitted to write that God and the vastness of the world 
are confounded and merge in the thinking of the day, that 
it is as absurd to say that God has assumed a human 
nature as to maintain that the circle has assumed the 
nature of the square, and that it was madness to imagine 
that God can serve as food to any man, and undergo 
digestion in his body. But that all this should be stated 
in such naked terms and in connection with such search- 
ing arguments, was a very important event in its bearing 
upon the future. The seed sown by Spinoza in the minds 
of men will germinate one day, and its growth will not 
be to the advantage of the Catholic Church. 

Well-informed historians indeed name great lords of 
this period, sheltered by their personal position from the 
dangerous movement of public opinion, who will express 
very subversive ideas in private (among them the Ven- 
dome family) ; but their libertinage/ as it was then called, 
was only a pose taken by those who are blase and did not 
spread beyond their circles. The bad reputation which 
clung to them and to their morals sterilizes their ideas, 
which they do not, moreover, even seek to circulate, and 
certainly would be sorry to popularize. It may fairly be 
said that in the middle of the seventeenth century all 
thinkers in countries which were not Reformed are at 
least trying to retain a Catholic mentality. In imitation 
of, and thoroughly impregnated with the spirit of 
Descartes, they laud the sovereignty of reason in all 
that concerns science and the common uses of the intel- 
lect, but they subordinate it to revelation, which means 
in practice to the rule of the Church in matters which 

7 The original meaning, now obsolete, was "irreligion," or "free- 


concern religion. They all seem to take precautions in 
advance against the dangers to their salvation into 
which the pride and folly of unfettered thinking upon all 
points might lead them. And in most cases there appears 
to be no question of their sincerity. It is even difficult 
for us to say where reservations end, for instance, when 
we are dealing with the religion of such men as Moliere 
or La Fontaine. 

The strain entailed by a compromise of the kind just 
described and the mental anguish it might cause a man 
who thinks deeply, is shown in the case of Pascal, but it 
does not seem as though his inward turmoil was shared 
by many of his contemporaries. Devotions kept up as a 
matter of habit doubtless sufficed to content most of them, 
and this perfectly satisfied the Church. It seems strange 
to see men apparently so devoted to reason deliberately 
twist it into conformity with the harsh demands of ortho- 
dox tradition in all that concerns the conduct of their 
inner life. The explanation must be sought first of all in 
the prevalence of the discussions going on which do not 
touch the real questions; matters, for instance, like the 
opinions held by the Keformers upon the rights of the 
Pope, the efficacy of good works or of sacraments, 
or those which the Augustinus raises in regard to grace. 
The zeal of the combatants, all the more ardent the more 
severely limited the battle ground, is wholly concentrated 
upon the precise subject under debate, and naturally turns 
its back upon a critical examination of the fundamental 
tenets of orthodoxy. The violent quarrels over divers 
problems of moral discipline, such as those sponsored by 
the Jansenists and the Quietists, have the same outcome. 
And it is no different with political complications involv- 
ing ecclesiastical interests, grave questions of conscience, 
for instance, like those raised by the Gallican policy of 
Louis XIV or his persecution of the Protestants. 

It would appear therefore still normally very difficult 
for a thinker in the seventeenth century, persuaded by 
social conventions into living the life of a good Catholic, 
to acquire intellectual independence by detaching his 

428 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

judgment from certain conclusions for which a long 
heredity and a consent quasi-universal had come to serve 
as a kind of evidence, and which public opinion, as well 
as official intolerance of State and Church alike, 
had imposed upon everyone. A sovereign like Louis 
XIV might indeed attempt to free himself, in temporal 
matters, from all papal control and undertake, by the 
declaration of 1682, to establish a Church which should be 
practically independent of the Pope, but he never enter- 
tained the idea of contesting his spiritual authority. 
Moreover, the principle of divine right upon which his 
own monarchy was founded involved the strict preserva- 
tion on his part of a state religion. For this reason the 
Huguenots who did not conform suffered great tribula- 
tion at the hands of the king, and the libertines felt 
obliged to conceal their views and appear before the 
world as devout adherents of the faith. Saint Simon tells 
us that the Duke of Orleans had had a copy of Rabelais 
bound as a prayerbook, and gravely read the adventures 
of Gargantua during the long service held in the royal 
chapel at Versailles ; the point is he did go to the chapel 
and did appear to be devoutly following the Mass. Prince 
of the blood though he was, he could not have dispensed 
with this attendance save at the cost of insurmountable 

Toward the end of his reign, through the influence of 
Madame de Maintenon, Louis XIV became crabbedly 
devout. Police agents used during Lent to sniff at the 
doors of the gentry's houses to detect, if possible, the 
odor of some accursed roast, and michievous people used 
to amuse themselves throwing them off the track by grill- 
ing smoked herrings behind their closed doors. This 
small detail tells a whole lot. It was not only in satire, 
as La Bruyere says, that a man born a Christian and a 
Frenchman in those days found himself under constraint ; 
he was under curb also in the criticism of religion. Nor 
was France alone in this intolerance. It was prevalent 
everywhere, letting down a little in Holland only for 
commercial reasons, for there the manufacture of books 


prohibited elsewhere was a source of considerable 
revenue; genuine liberty of thought counted for nothing 
in the considerations governing the consent of the public 
authorities to the publication of these "bad books." 


It was in the latter half of the seventeenth century 
especially that a series of influences, only slightly per- 
ceptible to those concerned and as yet very confused in 
their diversity, proceeding often entirely from individ- 
uals, led the way to an opposition to the Catholic Church 
and its systematic theology which was of a rationalistic 
nature. This hostility was not clearly in evidence until 
the eighteenth century. The factors which contributed 
to form it, though not in equal proportions, were the 
constant progress made by the sciences and by scholar- 
ship, advance of philosophical speculation and critical 
research along the paths opened up by Descartes, a cer- 
tain turn of mind given to fault-finding and doubt with 
regard to Church matters, current in the "society" of the 
day, and, overtopping all the rest, the perfecting of 
the press, the indispensable agent in the diffusion of ideas 
and popularization of discussion. 8 More than one indica- 
tion would have revealed the existence of this opposition 
had anyone been on the lookout long before it forced 
itself upon the attention of all. For instance, the writings 
of Fontenelle (1657-1757) contain a popular exposition 
of the methods, rights and hopes of experimental science, 
presented with a very innocent air. They put into 
circulation widely in the world outside scientific circles 
opinions which will soon domesticate themselves in the 
mind of Voltaire. The Histoire des Oracles (1687), which 
appears only to aim at overthrowing the superstition of 

8 The Philosophiae naturalis prinoipia mathematica of Newton (1642- 
1727) appeared in 1687; the work of Leibnitz (1646-1716) and of Locke 
(1632-1704) are very nearly contemporaneous; the Nouvelles de la 
Re'puMique. des lettres brought out by Bayle (1647-1706) begin to appear 
in 1684. and his Dictionnaire historique et critique in 1695 to 1697. 
His celebrated Pensees sur la Comete appear in 1681, the very year in 
which Bossuet published his Discours sur VMstobre universelle! 

430 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

"false religions," has been rightly classed as the first 
offensive undertaken by science against the Christian 

Its most formidable opponents, it is true, must still be 
sought outside the kingdom of France, for although 
French intellectual influence was then spreading all over 
Western Europe, official restrictions impeded all really 
independent thought upon the forbidden subjects within 
her borders. Careful note must be taken of various 
trends of thought, still very circumscribed in scope and 
apparently individual in character, which were obtaining 
a hearing in Holland, through such men as Bayle and 
Clericus; in Germany, through Pufendorf (1632-1694) 
and Thomasius (1655-1728) ; and in England, through 
Locke and Shaftesbury (1671-1713), in whose case the 
influence of Bayle and Locke are combined. 

Bayle and Locke deserve separate notice, since they 
— the former especially — were the great teachers of the 
eighteenth century. Although Bayle 10 does indeed 
appear desirous not to be confused with the libertines, 
nevertheless he excels in giving their arguments their 
proper weight, especially in rebuttal to those of ortho- 
doxy ; and also in calling attention, without seeming to do 
so, to difficulties which prove very embarrassing to the 
theologians. In comparing man with the animals, for 
instance, he seems to hesitate about the mortality of the 
soul of man and the immortality of that of the animals. 
"His greatest enemies are obliged to admit that there 
is not a single line in his works which is clearly blasphemy 
against the Christian religion, but his most ardent cham- 
pions admit that in his controversial articles there is 
not a single page which does not lead the reader into 
doubt and often into unbelief. He could not be convicted 
of being impious, but he made others impious." It is 
Voltaire X1 who thus judges him, and judges him, too, 

9 See the list of the Englishmen who "have had the audacity to raise 
their voices, not only against the Roman church, but against the Chris- 
tian Church" in Voltaire, Lcttres an prince dc Brunsivick, IV. 

10 Cf. Devolve, Essai sur Pierre Banle (Paris, 1906). 

11 Lettrcs an prince dc Brunswick, VI. 


rightly. Before Bayle 's time, the " liber tines," who are 
usually worldly folk without any very great knowledge, 
are not well enough equipped to proceed far in their 
criticism ; after his day, they have means at their service 
which embolden them. 

His vast erudition collected all the presumptions 
implicitly contained in previous philosophical systems 
which were unfavorable to Christianity and he drove them 
home with very adroit and really disconcerting skill. We 
are astonished ourselves to find how slowly Churchmen 
seem to have realized their danger. For a long time they 
thought that Bayle was aiming at the Protestants alone, 
and it was not until about 1730 that their eyes were really 
opened. The astute Ariegeois knew how to preserve an 
apparent respect for the established religion, even while 
he was proclaiming that l i reason is the supreme tribunal 
which judges as the court of last resort without possible 
appeal all that is brought before us. ' ' And to this reason, 
aided by conscience, he submitted questions like the 
moral worth of the Bible, the attributes of God, the very 
proofs of his existence, etc., in short, all the problems 
most prominent in Christianity to whose orthodox solu- 
tion it owes its existence. With regard to the supremacy 
of observed data, well attested and verifiable, he also 
confessed to that total submission which makes the 
scientist, and constitutes the assumption most dangerous 
to the faith. 

The apologists have two favorite arguments. They 
affirm that signal miracles have attested and do attest 
the truth of their belief, and they maintain that the divine 
virtue which that belief contains is made known through 
a species of moral transformation which humanity under- 
goes in becoming christianized. Now Bayle attacks both 
these arguments. He overthrows what is marvelous in 
the Bible by proving the scientific impossibility of these 
marvels according to the laws which God himself has 
imposed upon nature. He points out moreover that all 
religions have their miracles, which are always the same, 
and that they are all belied by arguments which never 

432 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

change. Nothing can be more prejudicial to Christianity 
than this citation of likenesses between it and other 
religions, from which it claims to be so different. Bayle 
draws comparisons between them, however, from another 
point of view also, when he puts the question whether 
religion is of any benefit to morality. His conclusion, 
based on the disadvantages to be debited to its theocratic 
and dogmatic spirit, and its intolerance, is that atheism 
is preferable in this respect to superstition. Superstition 
undoubtedly means to Bayle all positive religion, Chris- 
tianity included, as is plain from his assertion that 
"nature would give" (the Christian virtues) "to an 
atheistical society, if only the Gospel did not thwart her." 
It is easy to understand why the Dictionary and Bayle 's 
other writings were an arsenal on which Voltaire, 
d'Holbach and the Encyclopedists drew freely. 

Locke is not so rich in suggestion, but his good sense 
and his evident goodwill with respect to Christianity 
involve consequences equally fraught with peril for 
orthodoxy. He considers himself a good Christian and 
applies himself assiduously to the study of the Scrip- 
tures, but he rejects all dogmas that he finds incompre- 
hensible. Thus he offers men a premature type of liberal 
Protestantism which is very interesting to us, though it 
was excessively disturbing to the Church of his day. His 
"dechristianized" Christianity, it will be found, suits the 
"philosophers" who succeed very well. 

Liberty of thought, as was quite natural, first appeared 
in circles where some short acquaintance with liberty had 
already been formed and also where the extreme sub- 
division of public authority among petty sovereigns of 
small states led occasionally to a moderation of the 
tyranny customary. These first manifestations of the 
new spirit, different in principle as they may appear, were 
cooperating, it is plain, toward the same end, which was 
to lay the foundations of a sturdy vindication of individ- 
ual liberty in religious matters, and of tolerance for all 
religions everywhere. This intention, which is very pro- 


nounced in the writings of all the men just named, 
amounts already to a certain unity. 

It was upon English soil that in the true sense really 
anti-orthodox criticism of Christianity and even anti- 
Christian criticism first originated with men like Toland 
(1669-1722), Collins (1676-1729), Woolston (1669-1733), 
Tindal (1637-1733), and a few more. In their works they 
broke entirely with the generally received traditions con- 
cerning such matters as the origin of Christianity, its 
miraculous justifications, its character as a religion 
unique by reason of its truth and set apart from all 
others, and also questioned the authority and the rights of 
its priests. No one can be more anti-sacerdotal than was 
Toland, who so largely contributed to fill the minds of his 
"enlightened" contemporaries with a conviction of "the 
everlasting imposture" of all priests. 12 The very 
excesses attendant upon a liberty of thought which was 
certainly not exempt from very erroneous prejudices 
provided its own antidote, so to speak, at least in the 
opinion of the great majority of his readers. 

It was otherwise with the critical labors of the Scotch- 
man David Hume (1711-1776), who passed over considera- 
tions of detail and propositions calculated at first to seem 
scandalous, and dared to venture a frontal attack upon 
the real problem. He put his finger with unerring acute- 
ness upon the insurmountable difficulties which a really 
unfettered examination of Christian beliefs, as inter- 
preted in the theology of the several Church orthodoxies, 
raises in the realm of reason. For this dogmatic system, 
thus considered by him inacceptable, and for the pro- 
fessed revelation deemed unverifiable, he endeavored to 
substitute "natural religion," in the form of a senti- 
mental Deism somewhat difficult to define, since in reality 
it was somewhat vague, but which did depend for its 
justification upon purely philosophical reflections con- 
cerning nature and man. 

12 His book Christianity Not Mysterious (1696) was publicly burnt 
in Dublin in 1697. 

434 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

Little care was taken in the eighteenth century to 
analyze the content of the word nature, which was used to 
express so many different ideas, but it contains, as its 
main significance, a protest against the asceticism cus- 
tomarily regarded as characteristic of Christianity, and 
against Christianity itself. 13 At any rate it is employed 
against the Catholicism of the Church and in defense of 
a Christianity stripped of its dogmas, purged, reasonable, 
a Christianity, according to Locke, which is truly a 
religion of nature, since it is deemed to bring man in 
closer relation to her laws. At bottom, it is scarcely more 
than a form of Deism accompanied by a system of morals 
in conformity with the natural ends of man, reputed to 
have been preached by Jesus. Here are the words in 
which one of the theorizers of this religion of nature 
defines it: "The lofty worship of a God who punishes 
and rewards, a God made known in laws with- 
out revelation, dogmas with mystery, and power 
without miracles." 1 * It is indeed to approximately 
this that Hume to all intents and purposes reduces 

The influence of his ideas, direct and indirect, was 
deep-seated and very extensive ; almost all the thoughtful 
minds of the eighteenth century came over to his point 
of view. In its essence it was anti-Christian because he 
began to believe in the fundamental goodness of human 
nature, thus rejecting belief in his original fall, without 
which there is no redemption that is intelligible and 
accordingly no real Christianity. He sought also to 
relate the passions which agitate the heart of man to the 
will of the Creator, and not to interpret them as of course 
the cunning suggestions of the Devil. In the churches, 
and especially in the Roman church, he saw an agency of 
intolerance and constraint; in the dogmatism thereby 
imposed, an unbearable conspiracy against the natural 

18 Cf. P. M. Masson, La religion de Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Paris, 
1916), Pt. II, p. 259 et seq. 

14 Delisle de Sales, PMlosophie de la nature, Vol. VI, p. 357 (1770). 


dignity and liberty of thought. On the other hand in 
atheism he perceived a product of a distorted reason and 

At the same period materialistic and atheistic phil- 
osophers were not unknown, but they were never 
numerous or really influential. 15 Another noteworthy 
feature from the first in this anti-Catholic and anti- 
Christian movement is its aristocratic character. The 
religion of the masses is not called in question, and in 
principle no one, not even the atheists, disputes the neces- 
sity of maintaining their religion for them in the forms 
they are accustomed to practice, and in the ecclesiastical 
setting which tradition has assigned it. It is well to 
remember that Voltaire, who minded the appellation 
"l'lnfame," looked carefully nevertheless after the devo- 
tional needs of his Ferney peasants ; that he built on his 
property a church bearing the proud inscription: Deo 
erexit Voltaire, and observed Easter there for the edifica- 
tion of the neighborhood. In this sense the intellectuals 
of the age of enlightenment had not advanced much 
beyond Cicero. The religion of the world in general 
seems to them to be worthy of respect because it retains 
a following and to change it would seriously disturb the 
custom of the people, upset their morals, and weaken 
their submissiveness. In short, in their judgment as the 
privileged classes of society, it is the best agency of 
social constraint by which men who have no property 
learn and preserve respect for property. Most of the 
writers of the eighteenth century who pride themselves 
on being politicians did not therefore reply as Bayle did 
to the problem he had posed, namely, whether religion 
is better than atheism for society in general. Upon 
this point Montesquieu is at one with Turgot, and 

1B The most noteworthy is d'Holbach, who arrived at atheistic 
materialism by way of natural history. His chief book, the Systeme 
de la nature, published in 1770 under the pseudonym of Mirabaud, shocks 
Voltaire himself and is an object of horror to most of the thinkers of 
the clay. La Mettrie loses all his posts after he publishes his Histoire 
naturelle de Vdme in 1745, and only escapes arrest by taking refuge in 

436 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

Voltaire with the Marquis of Mirabeau and with 
Necker. 15 


The French philosophers, from Montesquieu to Kous- 
seau, including Voltaire, the Encyclopedists, d'Alem- 
bert, Diderot (and even d'Holbach and Helvetius, more 
systematic and consequently more radical), built upon the 
foundations laid by Descartes and Bayle, but they also 
took up and developed the ideas of their English col- 
leagues and secured for them a larger public by express- 
ing them in a language understood by all cultivated 
Europe. Their personal contributions to the common 
task are of unequal interest and permanence. Moreover 
they do not always agree, nor realize that they are work- 
ing together and headed in the same direction. That 
conclusion is a judgment of ours founded on a survey 
that sums up the total results of their efforts as has just 
been done. 

To simplify the matter, however, without straying too 
far from the living reality which lies entirely in persons 
— all distinguishable, and in works — quite different one 
from the other, the generalization may be ventured that 
the thought of these philosophers develops along two 
separate trends, which even end in contradicting each 
other. The one may be correctly described as critical, the 
other as sentimental. 

The two chief historians among these philosophers con- 
fine themselves to the first of these. They are Montes- 
quieu, who attacks the Church only indirectly and cau- 
tiously, and Voltaire. Our age is usually inclined to 
judge the work of criticism done by Voltaire too severely, 
on account of his pleasantries which are certainly not all 

16 Cf, Masson, Religion de J. J. Rousseau, Vol. I, p. 241 et seq. Necker, 
in his treatise De V importance des opinions religieuses (17SS) writes 
calmly (p. 58), "The more the increased taxation keeps the people in 
dejection and want, the more essential it is to give them religious educa- 
tion, for it is in the restlessness due to misfortune that there is most 
need of stout fetters and daily consolation." We agree with Rivarol in 
regarding these reflections as blameworthy, but they are none the less 
current among the politicians of this age. 


of much importance, but are often very acute. It cannot 
be gainsaid that he is very skilful in picking out from the 
Bible passages which lend themselves to exploitation, and 
turning them into ridicule. "With his ready wit he makes 
sarcastic, thorny comments upon the assertions contained 
in dogmas. 17 The age was not yet ripe for any different 
methods of polemics. Voltaire obstinately remains a 
Deist, but he would undoubtedly have found it difficult to 
give an exact definition of his God. Each time he seems 
to be on the verge of risking it, he begins to lapse into 
pantheism. " There is," he says, "something divine in 
a flea," and God is everywhere in the world. He lets 
this God preserve his traditional characteristics as an 
avenger of crime and a rewarder of virtue, but I do not 
think he takes these qualities very seriously, and certainly 
in affirming them, he only desires to support the popular 
faith, which has scarcely anything else to rely upon. 
In all this I see merely a concession which he makes to 
custom or prejudice. But when he proclaims the entire 
separation of reason and faith, and the full independence 
of them both, that is not done for the benefit of the faith, 
but reason does gain by this removal of theological 
restrictions. So, too, when he affirms that it is necessary 
to extend the methods of observation and experience to 
metaphysics, it is a skilful way of ruling out the embar- 
rassing ambitiousness of the type of speculation that con- 
sists in reasoning about what we do not know, by reducing 
its program to a modest observation of the facts instead 
of the invention of theories, and the submission of these 
in their turn to the laws of science. 

Certainly Diderot, d'Alembert, all the great Encyclo- 
pedists, go further than Voltaire in their criticism of 
religion. Many of them already entertain ideas upon the 
relations between the three kingdoms of nature which are 
the forerunners of evolutionism, but as a rule they speak 
and act very guardedly where dogmas are concerned 

1T Cf. especially La Bible enfln explique'e par plusieurs aumoniers de 
8. M. L. R. D. P. (1776) ; and the Eistoire de VCtabli88ememt du cJurte- 
tianisme (1776). 

438 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

whether or not they do so in the case of the dignitaries 
and the institutions of the Church. They know, as 
d'Alembert expresses it to Voltaire, that "the fear of 
the stake freezes." But, without any show of disrespect 
though it be, it is against theology and its theory of the 
cosmos that the Encyclopedia brings all the scientific 
equipment of the age to bear. "A contempt for human 
sciences," Condorcet writes at the end of the century, 
"was one of the first characteristics of Christianity. . . . 
Accordingly its triumph was the signal for the complete 
decline of the sciences and of philosophy." 18 Thorough 
contempt for Christianity as a consequence of the triumph 
of science was, on the other hand, the primary char- 
acteristic of eighteenth-century philosophy. Helvetius, 
d'Holbach, La Mettrie and (with stricter scientific 
emphasis), Cabanis, develop the critical and budding 
"scientific" drift of the men just named into full blown 
unbelief, atheism and materialism. 

At the very time when "philosophy" was triumphing in 
France, the tradition which originated with Pascal was 
not yet extinct. Voices not all of them ecclesiastical 
which, indeed, only needed a touch of genius for them to 
speak like the great apologist, were raised against the 
cloudy light of reason, the systematical spirit and falla- 
cious science. At first we are surprised at encountering 
Marivaux in this company. In short, sentiment, which 
also has reasons of its own, difficult to hold in check, 
protested against the operations of deist and anti- 
Christian rationalism. At first it gained no advantage, 
but toward the end of the century and of the old regime, 
it had the last word. The credit for this victory was 
mainly due to Eousseau, and the way to it was prepared 
by the publication of the Profession de foi du vicaire 
Savoyard (1762). Diderot clearly recognized this to be 
the case, when he commented with respect to this famous 
book: "I see Rousseau wandering round a Capuchin 

18 Esquisse d'un tableau historique des progres de T esprit Iwmain 
(Paris, third year of the Republic), pp. 135-6. 


brotherhood, in which he will bury himself one of these 
days. ' ' 

Certainly the Savoyard vicar professes a " natural 
religion," but his doctrine is by no means thoroughly 
purged of everything belonging to the theological and 
Scholastic past. Moreover, he mingles with reflections 
in the style of Locke and Condillac, mystic effusions 
which have a strong trace of fideism. Above all, he 
expounds his theory in so Christian a tone that it seems 
to be announcing and preparing the way for a complete 
conversion. D 'Holbach has good ground for his remark 
that Rousseau will find it very difficult not to slip into 
the most absolute faith. Meanwhile, he violently 
attacks "the philosophist party," as he calls them, 
and he justifies beforehand, in the name of religious senti- 
ment, the maintenance of all the religious customs of the 
past, and all the fanaticisms which Voltaire castigates. 
Rousseau maintains that in writing the Profession de 
foi he desired "to establish philosophical liberty and 
religious piety at the same time." That may be true, 
but, as a matter of fact, his religious considerations 
greatly outweigh the philosophical. Although the 
"philosophists," with Voltaire at their head, employ the 
critical portion of the book as an aid against the Catholic 
Church, they are not at all misled as to its tendencies. 

Jean Jacques rallies the religious souls in cultured 
society around him. The Church has allowed them to 
wander, but in the pages, shot through with religious 
sentiment, which Rousseau offers them (of which a cer- 
tain Abbe de Laporte publishes in 1763 a kind of 
anthology, which has a rapid and lasting success), they 
come into their own again. A prophet of the religious 
sentiment has arisen, and the gratitude of those whom 
he has touched goes out so piously and fervently to him 
that it ends in a species of cult, spontaneously organized 
around the tomb of Jean Jacques in the lie des Peupliers 
at Ermenonville. 

The Savoyard vicar did not supply this religious 

440 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

"sensibility" with a new organization for its conserva- 
tion ; he merely strengthened, encouraged and exalted it. 
He led it to the point at which Chateaubriand in the 
Genie du Christianisme takes it and makes it permeate 
the traditional forms of Catholicism once more, after he 
has indulged in various effusions and considerations of 
an esthetic, moral and social order, which have very little 
to do with either philosophy or criticism. Whatever may 
have led to the clerical attacks upon Rousseau (so often 
and so foolishly paired with Voltaire), it is in the way 
just mentioned that the Profession du vicaire Savoyard, 
and also La nouvelle Heloise and Emile (while they some- 
times criticize Roman Catholicism and Calvinistic ortho- 
doxy, it is true, with considerable bitterness) contributed 
to strengthen the Christian frame of mind in the literate, 
and prepare the way for a Catholic restoration in the 
French middle classes. 

Starting from the year 1760 a current of thought, 
originating in England and set forth in the writings of 
Young, Thompson, Goldsmith and Ossian, exerted an 
influence in France in the same direction Jean Jacques 
had taken, and the "sentimentalists" obtain the ascend- 
ancy. For them, according to Emile 's summing-up, "it is 
not a case of knowing what is true, but what is helpful." 
And this principle, so contrary to the one science must 
use as its point of departure and which the "philoso- 
phists" did in fact employ, prefers consoling illusions to 
grievous truths (Necker) and finds expression in many 
different forms between the years 1760 and 1789. In 
1782 Mercier states that it has become bad form to speak 
evil of religion or of priests "in company." 19 

It should be noted, however, that whatever profit the 
Catholic Church may finally gain by this reaction of 
sentiment against a science ambitious rather than com- 
prehensive or profound, and consequently more apt in 
attack than in defense, the opponents of the "philoso- 
phists" had no wish to work either for her or for her 
doctrine. Quite the contrary. They had aimed to 

19 Tableaux de Paris, Vol. Ill, p. 93 et seq. 


liberate religion from a narrow dogmatism and recall it 
to proposals acceptable to reason, just as they had, as an 
alternative to the fanatical Jesuit, pictured the bon 
cure, the friend and counselor of his flock, a large- 
minded, indulgent and, above all, benevolent priest. 
Unfortunately the common people did not care for their 
dogmas (the populace did not, as a matter of fact, burden 
themselves overmuch with dogmas), but for their own 
catechetical formulas and habits of worship; while the 
intellectuals, on their part, having failed to define and 
fix their ideal, will soon fall back into Catholic tradi- 
tionalism, or revert to rationalism. In the last thirty 
years of the eighteenth century a religion that was 
"simple, wise, venerable, less unworthy of God and 
more sound for us" might have arisen, but it could not 
find a form adjusted to itself. 

At the same time, the German philosophers of the 
school of "Wolff (1679-1754), despite their many inco- 
herences and contradictions and above all offensive 
pedantry, compensated for, however, by great erudition, 
entered upon a particularly serviceable twofold task: (1) 
to free their thought from the ancient Scholasticism, more 
tenacious in their land through the persistent efforts of 
Reformation scholars like Melancthon, than elsewhere, 
and (2) to provide philosophy with solid scientific founda- 
tions. Stated otherwise, they were preparing a method 
for the use of the modern spirit of investigation which 
would prove its strength and secure its triumph. Never- 
theless they showed that they belonged to their times for 
they, too, let themselves dream of a natural religion, and 
the past still had a greater hold upon them than they 
believed, since they had not yet succeeded in wholly free- 
ing themselves from traditional theology. One of them, 
however, Reimarus (1694-1768), profoundly influenced by 
the English rationalistic Deists, secretly devised the first 
thorough attack upon the orthodox idea of the personality 
of Jesus and his work. I am alluding to the well-known 
Wolfenbiittel Fragments, published by Lessing after the 
death of their author, in which Christ is portrayed as a 

442 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

contriver of huge impostures. To be sure, its exegesis is 
shallow and its science without much scope, but at any 
rate the fundamental problem of Christian history was 
boldly stated and "scientifically" approached. This 
essay, incomplete as it was and easy to criticize, war- 
ranted the stir it created in Germany, and it was more 
pregnant with possibilities for the future than the bitter 
and eloquent posthumous diatribe of the cure Meslier, 
published by Voltaire, in which a Catholic priest 
expressed his hate and spite against a teaching that had 
deceived him. 

Of the thinkers and — already — the seekers of the age 
of enlightenment, I have only named those who are best 
known today. Many others who acquired a reputation 
during their lives equal to these have written books, like 
Mably or the Abbe Reynal, for instance. Apart from the 
main difference recently noted between the critical and 
the sentimental, there were naturally other considerable 
differences in tendency, spirit, and opinion; each person 
preserved his own more or less avowed individuality. 
Nevertheless the conclusions to which they all tended 
with regard to Roman Catholic doctrines and even all 
other restrictive systems of dogmatics, were singularly 
alike and, as a consequence of their united efforts, it 
seemed as if the venerable Christian edifice might be 
heard creaking in a disturbing way. To tell the truth, 
philosophical thought still received quite inadequate sup- 
port from the experimental sciences; the taste that per- 
sisted for the marvelous still sadly hindered the stabiliz- 
ing of the scientific spirit, and the credulity which pre- 
vailed that adhered to the most extravagant gossip con- 
tradicted the testimony of experiment. The study of 
nature develops, however ; it even becomes a real hobby of 
the educated public and, with the advent of Buffon, it is 
laicized. It is not yet clearly realized what danger lies 
concealed in it for orthodox cosmology, but that danger 
none the less keeps growing within it. 20 

20 Cf. D. Mornet, Les sciences de la nature en France au XVI lie 
siecle (Paris, 1911). It is noteworthy that until the end of the century 
the Journal des savants gives the first place in its index to theology. 


An international institution of obscure origin but prob- 
ably in the beginning a real trade guild of ancient date, 
freemasonry reorganized in England early in the eight- 
eenth century as a kind of secret society for humanita- 
rian, moral and religious purposes and extended effective 
aid to the movement of ideas just described. Its 
"lodges" 21 are centers of attraction for men of this 
stamp and of dissemination for these ideas; they per- 
sistently endeavor to spread and confirm them. It is 
no longer a question with them of constructing houses 
according to the best rules, but of building up a better 
human race, by means of reason and in conformity with 
the Creator's design. The religious spirit in these masons 
is deep-rooted, but it has been set free from sectarian 
dogmatism and intolerance. The Church, not without 
the semblance of reason, will regard the Masonic broth- 
erhood as her most treacherous and dangerous enemy, 
which aims to dismantle her work and reconstruct it in 
another spirit. Meanwhile, the number of enlightened 
priests in the eighteenth century who adhere in their 
hatred of fanaticism and intolerance to freemasonry is 
a considerable one. 


The Church defended herself, but very ineffectively, 
and her strongest partisans confess that in the eighteenth 
century she lost her power of guiding the minds of men. 
It is in this century also that the mistake made by the 
Council of Trent (which, by fettering her to the past, 
barred the future to her) first became apparent. Her 
leaders, too often of doubtful faith and morals, sought 
alliance with the sovereigns of the different countries, 
on the ground that the perils of the altar are also those 
of the throne, and demanded that the secular authorities 
use repressive measures against the wrong-thinking. 
Their request was granted in some cases, like the royal 
declaration of 1757, which pronounces the death pen- 
alty upon anyone who composes, prints, edits or sells 

2 1 The first lodge established in Paris dates from 172u ; about ten 
years later similar groups are to be found in Germany. 

444 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

a writing which is hostile to religion, and the condemna- 
tion of Emile by the Parliament in 1762. The clergy 
begin in 1730 to organize popular missions, and do not 
hesitate to resort to strong measures ; for instance, they 
put into circulation a letter from Jesus Christ sternly 
denouncing the growing impiety, which is authenticated 
by two doctors of the Sorbonne ! 

The official apologists, however, did not produce any 
but feeble argument, and certain bodies, such as the Sor- 
bonne, still invested by the support of public authority 
with considerable powers of restraint, were jeopardizing 
the cause they supported by bringing ridicule upon it. 
Not by such measures as worrying Montesquieu or Buf- 
fon, 23 forcing French writers to take humiliating precau- 
tions in their choice of language, obliging Helvetius to 
retract the theses in his book on Mind, conducting an 
implacable campaign against the Encyclopedia or, in 
another direction, by continuing to take witchcraft too 
seriously, could this body of " mortar-boards" hope to 
check the march of ideas. Men of learning and of talent 
were certainly not wanting in the Catholic Church in the 
age of enlightenment. Nevertheless, with the exception 
of Bossuet, admirable as a writer and an ardent apol- 
ogist, but without any real originality as a theologian, 
St. Alfonzo of Liguori (1696-1787), an interesting 
theologian and moralist and a lofty soul, and St. 
Jean-Baptiste de la Salle (1651-1719), whose Freres de la 
doctrine chretienne rendered the Church inestimable 
service among the masses, it will be found that the others 
built up a reputation on anything but specifically Catho- 
lic works. They are chiefly linguists, archeologists and 
indefatigable explorers of libraries, for it is at this time 
that Mabillon, Montfaucon, Calmet, Hardouin, Muratori, 
Gallandi, Mansi, Assemani, Ugolini, and many others like 

22 Although the Sorbonne considers the Esprit dcs Lois for two years, 
and finally draws from it eighteen propositions worthy of condemnation, 
it dares not proceed against Montesquieu, but contents itself with threat- 
ening him from time to time. It is for his opinions with respect to 
the earth's formation mainly that it attacks Buffon who, moreover, 
comes off well from the affair in 1751. 


them, who are the pride of ecclesiastical erudition, are 
carrying on their work. 

Undoubtedly faith is still alive in those times, and even 
fanaticism, which is too often its accompaniment ; and we 
meet with both in circles which the new ideas would seem 
at once to have reached and invaded. It is enough to 
recall the development of the cult of the Sacred Heart 
in the upper classes in Poland and elsewhere, the tenacity 
of the French Parliamentarians in favor of Jansenism 
even when it lapsed into thaumaturgic excesses, 23 and 
certain dreadful lawsuits (in which the most ferocious 
intolerance comes to light) like those of Calas and of 
Sirven, which were investigated and judged by the Par- 
liament of Toulouse. Nevertheless ideas opposed to the 
political power of the Church or, as we should say, to 
clericalism, acquire precision, establish themselves and 
become effective in the course of the eighteenth century. 

One of the essential features of this vast attempt at 
governmental reorganization known as ' ' enlightened des- 
potism, ' ' which was directly inspired by the ideas of the 
philosophers even more than by those of the economists, 
was the hostility to clerical influence in political life. 
The complete sovereignty of the state in temporal mat- 
ters is affirmed; the powers of action of ecclesiatical 
authorities are subordinated to the authority and direc- 
tion of the civil ones; an attempt is made to limit the 
increase in Church property ; the right to extend religious 
fraternities is restricted, upon occasions convents are 
suppressed, and more especially, heavy blows are show- 
ered upon the Jesuits, who are regarded as a danger 
to the independence of the lay power, and as enemies of 
" enlightenment. " Nothing is more characteristic of the 
mind of educated men of this age than the active hatred 
they bear to the famous Society of Jesus, in which the 

28 It was not only the celebrated miracles of the deacon named Paris 
which proved the Papal bull TJnigenitus to have been in error in con- 
demning Jansenism, and that the Jesuits were rogues (for that is 
what they aimed at proving) ; there were provincial prodigies of the 
same kind, but they did not attain to the notoriety oi those enacted in 
the cemetery of St. Medard in Paris. 

446 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

will for domination and the intolerant sectarianism of 
the Church of Rome are incarnate. That Society pays 
dearly for the tyrannical power she has enjoyed in the 
Catholic world for a century and a half, and no account 
is taken of the efforts she has at any rate made to adapt 
herself as far as possible to the demands of political life 
in the principal states in which she is established. In 
France, for instance, the Parliament ignores the fact 
that the Jesuits on French soil in the eighteenth century 
usually profess to accept the Gallican declaration of 
1682. Portugal in 1759, and then France, and Spain 
afterwards, condemn the Order and drive out its mem- 
bers ; the Spaniards, with a gesture not without symbolic 
significance, send them back to the Pope, landing them 
at Civita Vecchia in 1767. Confronted with the dis- 
order which this hostility was engendering in Christen- 
dom, and because he began to fear another great schism, 
Clement XIV, in self-defense and very reluctantly, 
ordered the suppression of the Society in his brief 
Dominus ox redemptor of July 21, 1773, on grounds, 
moreover, which are very severe. 2 * 

The facts do not entirely correspond with appearances 
since the Jesuits survived their dissolution, for they 
found refuge with Frederick II of Prussia and with 
Catherine II of Russia, who utilized their gifts as edu- 
cators in their own interests, especially in the parts of 
Poland which had been annexed, and as early as 1782 the 
Russian Jesuits were electing a vicar-general. 25 Never- 
theless it was not a matter of little or no moment that the 
Jesuit Fathers had been expelled from their schools in 
France, for instance, and compelled to abandon the edu- 
cation of the young to teachers taken from among the 
parochial clergy, who were more or less imbued with the 
new ideas. The generation which arrived at manhood 
age toward 1789 did not pass through their hands, and 

24 It has recently been reedited with a good translation, by J. de 
Recalde (Le oref "Dominus ac redemptor," Paris, 1920), and it is worth 
reading, especially as it is often misquoted. 

25 Pius VII will reestablish the Order for Russia in 1S01, for the 
Kingdom of the Sicilies in 1S04. 


this unforeseen result of their expulsion tells a singularly 
interesting story. 


As the century advances toward its close, indifference 
to Catholic interests and beliefs seems to be making 
progress among men who had studied and reflected and 
even among many others who wish to be in the fashion. 
It has been pointed out that beneath the "natural reli- 
gion" of Rousseau, there was a Christian revival and 
(in France) a Catholic revival brooding, but no one sus- 
pected it yet, for as far as people could then see the 
orthodox faith seemed to be losing adherents daily. On 
the eve of the Eevolution it was also seen that the Catho- 
lic Church, considered as a whole, was in a very sorry 
plight. The prestige of the Pope was much shaken, the 
members of the greater clerical orders bore impatiently 
their traditional daily discipline, and disputed its utility 
everywhere; preachers as a rule gave up speaking of 
dogma and addressed themselves instead to questions of 
morality, tolerance, peace and charity; the clergy began 
to encounter serious difficulties in recruiting their ranks 
and w r ere not in public favor ; they were reproached for 
their inadequate education, neglect of their duty and the 
laxity of their morals. 

But to tell the truth, below the circles of the social 
and intellectual elite wherein conflicting ideas and senti- 
ments were in a state of ferment, the masses of the peo- 
ple, although very much neglected by their pastors, 
remained at any rate faithful to the catechism and, held 
to their allegiance by a steadfast rural clergy, escaped 
untouched from unbelief. Even in France and at the 
height of the Revolution, their profound Catholicism 
found means by which to put itself on record. The 
attempts made to deprive the monarchist reaction of its 
best support by de-Christianizing the people, failed. If 
the populace did appear to accept certain measures tribu- 
tary to that unattained aim, or seemed to tolerate the 
worship of Reason in which the atheism of d'Holbach and 

448 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

the spirit of the Encyclopedists were put in practice, and 
the worship of the Supreme Being, carried out in the 
spirit of Rousseau, the culte decadaire (Ten Days' cult), 
which was set up to serve civic interests and assist in the 
persecution of refractory priests reputed traitors to their 
nation, they did so only in moments of great national 
peril and considered them measures for the public 
safety. At the extreme the popular element in the large 
cities which peopled the clubs voluntarily adopted the 
position of Voltaire, and reedited his sarcastic comments 
upon the Church. This explains why Napoleon thought 
it necessary as an aid to his authority to sign the Con- 
cordat and reestablish between Church and State that 
secular community of life and interests which the Repub- 
lic had in the end repudiated; 28 what the Catholic reli- 
gion still represented, as he himself said, constituted "an 
influential lever/ ' He had only a very insecure hold 
upon it at any rate, and the difficulties due to his policy 
with regard to the Pope are well known. He did not 
perceive until too late the imprudence which he had com- 
mitted in sacrificing the independence of the Gallican 
Church to pontifical omnipotence, in the vain hope of 
inducing Rome to fall in with his wishes. His signing of 
the Concordat had greatly displeased the old Jacobins. 
Moreover, to say nothing of the ancient popular customs 
just recalled, a movement was on foot from the time of 
Robespierre's fall which favored the reestablishment of 
regular Catholic life in France under the guise of a 
religion which should be both traditional and national. 
Once the excitement of the great crisis subsided, there 
remained in the hearts of men demoralized a need for an 
ideal, which was quite ripe for transformation to the 
benefit of religion. 

Do not, however, let us be deceived by words or appear- 

28 The Constitution of the Year III, confirming the actual situation 
and the decree of Feb. 21, 1795, stated that the Republic recognized all 
cults and gave financial support to none. It seems that the public mind 
would have become contented with this state of affairs if it had lasted 
and in lasting it would have spared France, as well as the Catholic 
Church, more than one grave difficulty. 


ances. At the end of the eighteenth century ordinary 
Catholics felt no better disposed toward the spirit of 
official theology than they had two or three hundred years 
before. They could not nourish their souls upon its 
formulas, even if they did repeat them whenever the 
need arose. They appeared to assent to them because 
they never contradicted them. Nobody troubled much 
about the fact that actually they were more wedded to 
practices and rites and parasitical devotions than to its 
obscure and mysterious dogmas. Since they submitted 
to the discipline of the Church and respected her teach- 
ing, what more could be asked of them? Moreover, the 
political interests of governments and the social interests 
of the ruling classes were for a long time yet agreed in 
maintaining the beliefs of the proletariat by which public 
order and property so thoroughly benefited. To repeat, 
it is to the intelligent understanding of these last interests 
that Bonaparte's decision must be related in principle 
when he resolved upon the restoration of Catholicism in 
France, and signed the Concordat. As early as June, 
1800, he was telling the priests of Milan that it was only 
religion that could give a state \ ' a solid and lasting sup- 
port." He was a good disciple of Abbe Raynal, whose 
ideas exercised so much influence upon the religious 
policy of the Revolution. In his Histoire philosophique 
des deux Indes, Raynal wrote: "The State is not 
made for religion, but religion is made for the State." 
To tell the truth, insufficiently educated men were 
just as incapable of understanding the arguments of the 
foes of Christianity as they were those of its apologists. 
It is the same today. If popular disaffection with 
respect to Christian beliefs has in many countries, as in 
France, become accentuated in the nineteenth century, it 
is due to social and political reasons, and to the opposi- 
tion anticlericalism has engendered to dogmas really 
impossible to understand, and practices easy to ridicule. 
It is indeed only very slowly that well-considered opinions 
percolate from the upper classes to the masses and 
become domesticated. In any event penetration does one 

450 Ancient, Medieval and Modern Christianity 

day take place, and undoubtedly in the profuse blossom- 
ing of intellectual activity in process